When late last week President Trump first referenced a Soleimani-directed plot to "blow up" the US embassy in Baghdad, which during a Friday Fox interview became in the president's words “I believe it would’ve been four embassies” — senators which had been given a classified briefing Wednesday balked, saying no such intelligence was referenced but should have been if there was evidence.
And now no less than Secretary of Defense Mark Esper appears to have publicly contradicted the White House's rationale for taking out the "imminent" threat of Qasem Soleimani. Esper told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that he "didn't see" specific evidence for embassy attacks, while adding that he still believes such an attack was likely.
Defense Secretary Epser: "I didn't see" specific evidence that showed Iran planned to strike four U.S. embassies. pic.twitter.com/4j2GgIIirL— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 12, 2020
"The president didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was he believed," Esper said.
“What the president said was that there probably could be additional attacks against embassies. I shared that view,” Esper said. “The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence.”
When pressed on whether intelligence officers offered concrete evidence on that point he said: “I didn’t see one with regards to four embassies.” — Reuters
During a separate CNN interview on Sunday, the Pentagon chief continued to awkwardly dance around the question of whether specific intelligence showed such an attack was being planned. Esper described that Trump merely "believed" it to be the case, while refusing to confirm any particular intelligence.
But earlier statements of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who before reporters defended Trump's assertion about the IRGC targeting the embassies, suggested there was specific intelligence.
When Pompeo was pressed on Friday by reporters over the nature of the "imminent threat" claims, he said: “We had specific information on an imminent threat and that threat stream included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period. Full stop.” And asked about what made it imminent, Pompeo simply said: “It was going to happen.”
The #Trump lie about intelligence for the #Soleimani hit has now completely disintegrated. Esper admits he never saw intelligence show a threat to U.S. Embassies, but "shared the president's view that probably...they were going to go after our embassies." https://t.co/SFVTnEcnyF— Gareth Porter (@GarethPorter) January 12, 2020
At first it was unclear whether President Trump was claiming to have seen specific intelligence outlining such a threat, or perhaps was just speaking generally and in his usual hyperbolic style ("blow up" the embassy) of the pro-Iranian mob's actions besieging the US embassy in Baghdad days prior to the Soleimani assassination.
The demonstrators had been filmed setting the outer walls of the compound on fire during the chaotic events nearly two weeks ago which resulted in a contingent of Marines rapidly deploying from Kuwait to bolster embassy security.
Let's be clear - if there was evidence of imminent attacks on four embassies, the Administration would have said so at our Wednesday briefing. They didn't.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 10, 2020
So either Fox News gets higher level briefings than Congress...
or...wait for it...
there was no such imminent threat.
So now Esper appears to be saying it was Trump's personal belief, while Pompeo appeared to base it on "specific information" — in other words direct intelligence. But which is it?
It can't be both ways.
Like the Bush administration's famously evolving rationale for the war in Iraq, are we witnessing the narrative on Iran made up on the fly?