Trump Administration's Reason for Killing Soleimani 'Directly Contradicts' Imminent Threat Claim, Top Democrat Says

The official legal and policy justifications the Trump administration provided to Congress for the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani fly in the face of previous claims made by the president, a top Democrat alleged on Friday.

The brief two-page report does not make reference to an "imminent attack," which President Donald Trump and some of his top officials claimed was the reason for the airstrike that killed Soleimani early last month. It does state that one of the purposes was to "deter" Iran from conducting "further attacks" against U.S. personnel and interests.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel decried the rationalizations as an "after-the-fact explanation."

"The administration's explanation in this report makes no mention of any imminent threat and shows that the justification the president offered to the American people was false, plain and simple," the New York Democrat said in a statement, along with the release of the report.

Engel added that the report "directly contradicts the president's false assertion" that the airstrike in Iraq was intended to thwart an imminent attack against U.S. personnel and embassies.

The death of Soleimani, who was reportedly responsible for hundreds of American deaths, came January 2 amid escalating tensions with the Middle Eastern country. An attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad preceded the drone strike. Along with mass anti-U.S. protests in Iran, the country's government responded to the general's killing with a missile attack on an Iraqi base housing U.S. troops, which resulted in dozens of serious brain injuries.

Democrat Trump justification killing Soleimani contradictory
People hold posters showing the portrait of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Major General Qassem Soleimani and chant slogans during a protest outside the U.S. Consulate on January 5 in Istanbul, Turkey. Major General Qassem Soleimani, was killed by a U.S. drone strike outside the Baghdad Airport on January 3. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty

The administration's claim of an "imminent threat" against Americans abroad has been criticized by many, particularly Democrats, for being undefined. Critics also said there was little-to-no evidence provided to support the claims. There were bipartisan concerns that killing Soleimani could lead to all-out war with Iran.

In addition to deterring future attacks, the strike's purpose was to "protect" U.S. personnel, to "degrade" the ability of the Iranian government and Iran-backed militias to "conduct attacks," and to "end Iran's strategic escalation of attacks on, and threats to" U.S. interests, the report said.

The report's release came the day after the GOP-controlled Senate issued a bipartisan rebuke to the president by passing an Iran War Powers resolution meant to curb his ability to take unilateral military action against the nation without congressional approval. Although it's expected to easily pass the Democratic-led House, the measure would not survive a presidential veto, which Trump has vowed to issue.

The administration's report outlining its justifications also cited Trump's authority under the Constitution and the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, a resolution passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Many lawmakers from both parties now say the AUMF gives a president too broad of an authority.

"Although the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime was the initial focus of the statue," the report said, "the United States has long relied upon the 2002 AUMF to authorize the use of force for the purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq and addressing terrorist threats emanating from Iraq."

Engel characterized that legal theory as "absurd."

"This law had nothing to do with Iran or Iranian government officials in Iraq," he said. "To suggest that 18 years later this authorization could justify killing an Iranian official stretches the law far beyond anything Congress ever intended."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to testify before Engel's House panel on February 28, where he'll be grilled by Democrats—and likely some Republicans—about Soleimani, among other matters.

Trump Administration's Reason for Killing Soleimani 'Directly Contradicts' Imminent Threat Claim, Top Democrat Says | Politics