Day 1089: Interpretations.
1/ Defense Secretary Mark Esper “didn’t see” intelligence backing up Trump’s claim that Iran was planning to strike four U.S. embassies. Trump previously told Fox News that Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was “probably” going to attack “four embassies,” including the “embassy in Baghdad.” While Esper agreed with Trump that additional attacks against U.S. embassies were likely, he said Trump’s comments were not based on any specific evidence. Esper also confirmed that he sent “thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites” based on Trump’s evidence-free assertion. (Reuters / NBC News / New York Times / CNN / CNBC)
📌 Day 1086: Trump claimed Iran had targeted four American embassies before he ordered the killing of Soleimani. Yesterday, Trump claimed that Iran was “looking to blow up” the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, but did not mention the three other embassies under “imminent” threat. (Bloomberg / Washington Post)
U.S. Embassy security officials at the State Department were not made aware of any imminent threats to four U.S. embassies, contradicting Trump’s claim that assassinating Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani was an act of self-defense. The State Department sent a global warning before the strike occurred, but no warnings were issued to any individual U.S. embassy and the global warning did not mention any imminent attack. One Senior State Department official said he was “blindsided” when the Trump administration attempted to justify the killing by saying Soleimani was behind an imminent threat to blow us U.S. embassies. (CNN)
2/ Senior administration officials declined to confirm Trump’s assertion that Iran was “looking to blow up” four U.S. embassies. Officials instead suggested that Trump’s “interpretation” of the threat was consistent with overall intelligence that justified the killing of Soleimani. Trump, meanwhile, tweeted that “it doesn’t really matter” whether Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat to the United States. (Washington Post)
3/ Trump authorized the assassination of Soleimani seven months ago. Trump issued a presidential directive in June that the killing of Soleimani was “only on the table if they hit Americans,” referring to Iranian actions in the region. The directive also came with the condition that Trump would have the final say on any specific operation to kill the Iranian general. The Trump administration’s justification for ordering the drone strike, however, was that Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks on Americans and had to be stopped. (NBC News)
- The Trump administration’s shifting explanations for the Soleimani strike. (New York Times)
4/ The Trump administration warned Iraq that it could lose access to its central bank account held at the Federal Reserve Bank if Baghdad kicks out American forces. In response to airstrike that killed Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport, the Iraqi parliament voted to urge Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to work toward the expulsion of the approximately 5,300 U.S. troops. (Wall Street Journal / CNBC)
- 📌 Day 1086: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. to come up with a mechanism for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq. During a phone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mahdi said Iraq rejects all violations of its sovereignty, including the assassination of Soleimani on Iraqi soil by the U.S. and the ballistic missiles fired at Iraqi bases by Iranians in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. Mahdi asked Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq,” according to a statement. The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 troops stationed in Iraq. (Associated Press / CNBC / Washington Post)
5/ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not rule out the possibility of a House subpoena for testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, depending on whether the Senate seeks testimony in Trump’s impeachment trial. Pelosi called Trump “too afraid to let any of his top aides testify,” saying he’s been “impeached for life” regardless of “any gamesmanship” by Mitch McConnell, whom she accused of orchestrating a “coverup” of Trump’s behavior. Pelsoi also didn’t rule out the possibility of additional articles of impeachment against Trump in the future, saying “Let’s just see what the Senate does.” (ABC News) / Washington Post / NBC News)
The White House expects some Republican senators to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial. Senior White House officials increasingly believe that at least four Republicans will vote to call witnesses. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Cory Gardner, Rand Paul, and Lamar Alexander are all considered possibilities. (CBS News)
A Rudy Giuliani associate turned over thousands of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators. Lev Parnas provided investigators with documents, recordings, photos, text messages from his iPhone, a Samsung phon, and his What’s App account. (CNN)
poll/ 66% of Americans would like to see John Bolton testify in the Senate impeachment trial, including 39% of Republicans, 71% of independents, and 91% of Democrats. (Quinnipiac)
poll/ 56% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of Iran, while 43% approve. 52% of Americans think the airstrike against Soleimani made the United States less safe, while 25% said they felt more safe. (ABC News / CNN)
The Department of Homeland Security placed a group of non-violent climate activists on a list of “extremists” alongside white supremacists and mass killers. Members of Climate Direct Action are known for acts of civil disobedience, like closing the valves on oil pipelines in four states. DHS described the group as “suspected environmental rights extremists” and listed them alongside people like Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers during a 2015 racist attack in Charleston, SC. (The Guardian)
More than a dozen Saudi servicemen training at U.S. military installations will be expelled from the United States after an FBI investigation found connections to extremist rhetoric, possession of child pornography, and a failure to report behavior by the gunman who killed three people last month at a Pensacola, Fla., military base. (CNN / Washington Post / New York Times)
Attorney General William Barr called the December shooting by a Saudi national at the Pensacola Naval Air Station “an act of terrorism” that was “motivated by jihadist ideology.” (CBS News / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / USA Today)
The official White House Twitter account tweeted a picture of snow falling around the White House with the caption, “First snow of the year!” even though it was 70 degrees in Washington, DC. The low was 49 degrees. The photo in the tweet was actually taken on Jan. 7 – the last time it snowed in DC. (Fox News / HuffPost)
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