Ex-Russia Ambassador Says 'There Is No Way' Mark Esper Wouldn't Have Seen Same Iran Intelligence as Trump

President Donald Trump's administration struggled this weekend to present a united front on the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he had seen no evidence to support the president's assertion that the Quds Force commander was preparing attacks on four American embassies.

Speaking to CBS News on Sunday, Esper admitted he had personally been shown no evidence detailing Soleimani's supposed plots, but also denied that Trump was overplaying the threat the Iranian commander posed.

Michael McFaul—who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama—was among those perturbed by Esper's comments. McFaul wrote on Twitter that the admission was "shocking" and raised doubts about Trump's explanation.

"Unless standard operating procedures for sharing intelligence in the [U.S. government] have changed radically since the time I served in the Obama administration, there is no way that the President, but not the Secretary of Defense, would have this kind of intel," McFaul wrote. "No way."

Trump has maintained that the drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad was necessary to stop imminent attacks against Americans in the Middle East. So far, the administration has provided no evidence supporting the argument, despite pressure from lawmakers and the media.

On Friday, Trump told Fox News, "I can reveal that I believe it probably would've been four embassies," referring to the supposedly imminent threat posed by Soleimani.

He did not elaborate on what embassies were in danger, what the attacks would have consisted of nor what evidence had been collected.

Esper appeared to contradict the commander in chief on Sunday.

Asked whether there was specific evidence of embassy plots, he replied, "I didn't see one with regard to four embassies." But then asked whether Trump was embellishing the threat, Esper responded, "I don't believe so."

"What I'm saying is I share the president's view that probably—my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies," Esper added. "The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country."

Soleimani's killing sparked a week of heightened tensions between Washington and Iran. Iran eventually retaliated via missile attacks on Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops, but the strikes appeared designed to avoid casualties and further escalation.

But hours after the attacks, Iran's anti-aircraft defense forces accidentally shot down a civilian airlines outside Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard. Iranian authorities initially blamed technical failure for the incident, but later admitted its forces were at fault.

Esper said Sunday, "My hunch is it was an accident" though added that the Iranian's "did the right thing by admitting it," urging Tehran to allow a full investigation into the incident.

Mark Esper, Iran, Donald Trump, Qassem Soleimani
This file photo shows Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaking at a briefing in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida on December 29, 2019. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images/Getty