Reporters pressed top officials Tuesday for an explanation of the “imminent” threat that President Trump claimed in ordering the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which sent the region into chaos and the United States to the cusp of war. One official after another replied with a variation of the same response: We won’t tell you.
Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, demanded that witnesses be allowed to testify in Trump’s Senate trial, particularly former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who just offered to appear. But Trump made it clear he’d quash such testimony, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday afternoon that he had enough Republican votes to proceed to a trial without promising witness testimony.
In war, as in impeachment: Move along. Nothing to see here.
The secrecy wouldn’t be quite so alarming, perhaps, if the administration exhibited some measure of competence. Instead, Trump and his aides are contradicting each other on whether they’ll target Iranian cultural sites (a war crime), whether they’re suspending the fight against Islamic State and whether they’re pulling troops out of Iraq.
In a symbol of the bumbling, on Monday officials released a draft of a letter from Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely to the Iraqi defense ministry announcing a U.S. troop pullout.
“I don’t know what that letter is,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told reporters, minutes before acknowledging that he had, in fact, read it.
“It’s not signed,” contributed Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
Eventually, Milley chalked the whole thing up to an “honest mistake.”
Esper was still mired in the letter fiasco Tuesday afternoon. “There is no signed letter, to the best of my knowledge,” he told reporters, scolding unnamed villains for “trying to create confusion.”
And these are the people telling us to trust them, no questions asked, to run a war?
During impeachment proceedings in the House, Trump ordered officials not to testify or to provide documents. Bolton was one of the many who obeyed. Now he says he’s willing to testify to the Senate under subpoena. But Trump retweeted a message saying, “The White House can assert executive privilege. It’s not Bolton’s privilege.”
McConnell, meanwhile, announced that Republicans had the votes to proceed to a trial without committing to witnesses. He said his resolution would be “essentially the same” as the unanimously approved Clinton impeachment resolution in 1999. When a reporter pointed out that the Clinton resolution had a provision dealing with witnesses, McConnell replied, “It may not be word-for-word the same.”
Bolton’s offer has a self-promotional smell; if Bolton, who is writing a book about his White House experience, wanted to say something, he could just say it rather than offering testimony the White House would likely block.
It’s also possible, as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) speculated to Fox News, “that his testimony would be helpful to the president.”
So why not let the chips fall where they may? “I’d like to hear what he has to say,” claimed Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — but not so much that Romney’s willing to defy the Trump fog machine.
In fairness to Romney, that fog is a formidable foe. Just try finding out about the “imminent” threat that led to the Soleimani assassination and now the precipice of war.
“I’m not going to go into the details of that,” said Milley.
“Sorry, I can’t get into intelligence,” said Esper.
Asked by Fox News on Tuesday about “new threats” from Iran, national security adviser Robert O’Brien twice referred to the Iranian hostage crisis — of 1979.
O’Brien, returning to the White House from his Fox News interview, was asked again about the imminence. He “unfortunately” couldn’t elaborate. He then again invoked the 1979 hostage crisis.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, also on the Fox News circuit, was likewise asked to “specify the threats that Soleimani posed.”
“No,” she replied. “That’s — that’s something — it was an intel-based decision.”
Next came Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a rare State Department news conference, he, too, was asked for specifics about “how imminent this was.”
He responded with fuzz about “continuing efforts … to build out a network.”
That doesn’t sound imminent. But don’t worry. “It was the right decision — we got it right,” Pompeo said.
Just take his word for it.
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