GOP Senator Mike Lee Says Trump Officials Refused to Answer Question About Possible Ayatollah Strike: 'Deeply Upsetting'

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) found the Trump administration's refusal to answer a question about a hypothetical U.S. assassination attempt against Iran's Supreme Leader "deeply disturbing" in a Thursday interview with NPR.

Speaking with NPR's Rachel Martin, Lee recalled a colleague asking Trump officials about whether they would seek congressional authorization for a strike targeting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during Wednesday's intelligence briefing on Iran. Lee was far from satisfied with the administration's response to the question.

"The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting," Lee said. "I think it was unprofessional, inappropriate and reflective of a certain cavalier toward the Constitution to refuse to make a commitment on that front."

In comments made to reporters Wednesday, Lee raised eyebrows with a scathing condemnation of the briefing in general, which he dubbed "the worst briefing I've seen" while serving in the Senate.

Although a considerable number of Democrats sharply criticized the content of the briefing, Lee's assessment represented the minority view among Republicans. He responded with disbelief when Martin asked about Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) saying the administration had done an "excellent job" in the briefing.

"I think he must have been in a different briefing than I attended," insisted Lee. "I literally find it difficult to imagine how my friend Marco, who is smart, who listens carefully, who cares about these things—how he could emerge from that meeting and say that it was good. It was terrible. I think it was an unmitigated disaster."

Sen. Mike Lee
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was one of a small number of GOP voices to be unconvinced by the January 8, 2020 Trump intelligence briefing on Iran. Darren McCollester/Getty

Lee said he went into the briefing undecided about supporting the War Powers Resolution by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), intended to reign in Trump's ability to legally use force against Iran, but the unconvincing nature of the evidence presented by Trump officials persuaded him to become strongly in favor of the bill. He expected to endorse the legislation as soon as the amendments Kaine agreed to make were added.

"I'm going to join it. I'll be supporting it," said Lee. "I'll not only be voting for it, I'll become a co-sponsor of it as soon as those changes are made."

When Martin asked about the precedent set by the administration's stance on Iran and the intelligence briefing, Lee responded by saying it was "not a good one." He emphasized his belief that the constitutional power to declare war was given to Congress because they are the branch of government "most accountable to the American people at the most regular intervals."

"Ours is not a system in which we can be taken into war by the executive, and it never should be," said Lee.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.