Like many US interventions in the Middle East before, this story seems to continue changing by the day. The rationale for taking out the "imminent" threat of Qasem Soleimani has now centered on President Trump's claim, first presented before reporters Thursday, that the IRGC Quds force chief was “looking to blow up our embassy”.
And now the president has given further details on those prior statements, saying in a new interview with Fox News there was a plot to bomb four embassies across the region.
“I can reveal that I believe it would’ve been four embassies,” Trump told Fox's Ingraham in an exclusive interview set to air in full Friday night. When pressed on specific targets, the president revealed: “We will tell you that probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad.”
This followed statements earlier in the day by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the president's Thursday assertion Soleimani sought to "blow up" embassies. Pompeo was pressed by reporters over the nature of the "imminent threat" claims.
“We had specific information on an imminent threat and that threat stream included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period. Full stop,” he said. Asked about what made it imminent, Pompeo simply said: “It was going to happen.”
See President Trump's newest statement asserting four embassies were being targeted in the Fox interview:
Trump: Actually, Soleimani was about to attack four separate US embassies. pic.twitter.com/FbiJklbbmc— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) January 10, 2020
At first it was unclear whether President Trump saw specific intelligence outlining such a threat, or perhaps was speaking generally and hyperbolic ("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 of early last week which resulted in a contingent of Marines rapidly deploying from Kuwait to bolster embassy security.
Given Trump and Pompeo's newest statements, it appears clear they're referencing a previously unknown plot which they are presenting as tied to specific US intelligence data.
CNN also reveals as much in the following:
A senior defense official told reporters Thursday the US had intelligence about multiple plots and threats involving Soleimani, including one that involved a plan to attack the embassy using explosives.
The plot was separate and more sophisticated than the attempts to storm the US embassy in Baghdad by Molotov-cocktail wielding Khatib Hezbollah members and its supporters, an effort US officials have said was also orchestrated by Soleimani.
During Trump's prior Thursday remarks, he tied the newly revealed alleged embassy bombing plot to the specific decision-making to go after Soleimani via drone strike, alongside other reasons including the Dec.27 death of a US contractor during a rocket attack by Khatib Hezbollah on a base in Kirkuk.
“We caught a total monster. We took them out. And that should have happened a long time ago. We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy,” Trump said during those initial remarks.
“We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious. Somebody died… people were badly wounded just a week before. And we did it. We had a shot at it … that was the end of a monster,” Trump added, referring to the death of the American contractor by Khatib Hezbollah.
Trump's new claims have already resulted in push back from Congressional leaders briefed on the matter Wednesday. Sen. Chris Murphy was the first to slam the new statements late Friday, saying no such intelligence on planned embassy bombings was presented:
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.
And yet, confusion persists within the administration itself, as CNN reported that "Earlier Thursday, administration officials had explained Trump’s comments about the plot to blow up the US embassy by saying he was referring to the public demonstrations by Khatib Hezbollah."
But in a separate Thursday rally in Toledo, Ohio, the president made it clear it was more than mere violent embassy protests: "Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad." Trump added: "But we stopped him, and we stopped him quickly, and we stopped him cold."
The latest interview with the president will air Friday night at 10 p.m. ET on Fox's “The Ingraham Angle.”