Trump says Soleimani was killed for 'saying bad things’ about U.S.
President Donald Trump gave a new justification for killing Qassem Soleimani, telling a gathering of Republican donors that the top Iranian general was “saying bad things about our country.”
“How much are we going to listen to?” Trump said Friday, according to remarks from a fundraiser obtained by CNN. He also used a vulgar expression to describe the nature of Soleimani’s comments.
Trump spoke amid a brewing controversy in Washington, where some lawmakers, especially Democrats, have said the White House has repeatedly shifted its justification for the Jan. 3 strike, which pushed Washington and Tehran to the brink of war.
The drone strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani came days after a violent protest by Iranian-backed protesters at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a rocket attack that killed an American contractor at a facility in Iraq.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has said Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on Americans and working “to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead, potentially, to the death of many more Americans.”
But he’s also acknowledged that the administration didn’t necessarily know when and where future attacks were being planned. Trump told Fox News on Jan. 10 that he believed Soleimani was planning attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and three other U.S. embassies in the region. Two days later, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CBS News that he “didn’t see” intelligence suggesting the specific threat Trump described.
“What the President said was, he believed it probably could have been,” Esper said in a separate interview with CNN. “He didn’t cite intelligence.”
Trump on Monday said his administration has been “totally consistent” in its explanation of the intelligence that justified the strike.“Here’s what’s been consistent: We killed Soleimani, the number-one terrorist in the world by every account,” Trump said. “Bad person.”
At Friday’s fundraiser, held at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump described the attack on Soleimani in vivid detail, according to the recording obtained by CNN. He said military officials counted down the last minutes of the Iranian general’s life as they watched the strike from “cameras that are miles in the sky.”
The president also erroneously claimed – as he has before – that Soleimani was meeting “the head of Hezbollah” while in Baghdad.
Soleimani was met at the airport by Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah. That’s a paramilitary group separate from the more prominent Lebanese militant organization, which also receives backing from Iran.
About 100 people attended Friday’s fund-raiser, according to the president’s re-election campaign. The event was expected to raise $10 million.In addition to his fundraising remarks, Trump tweeted publicly about Iran on Friday evening, saying that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “should be very careful with his words!” and that the people of Iran “deserve a government that’s more interested in helping them achieve their dreams than killing them for demanding respect.”
Earlier in the day, Khamenei said Iran had delivered a “slap to the U.S.’s image as a superpower” in a rare appearance leading Friday prayer in Tehran, the capital.