Multiple similar accounts have now come out over the inside the Situation Room decision-making process concerning the risky move to take out the IRGC's Gen. Qasem Soleimani, as well as how the drone attack operation played out at the airport.
By all accounts, as Soleimani traveled to and through Baghdad airport US intelligence seized upon the “target of opportunity” and moved fast to brief President Trump, who was at Mar-a-Lago. Defense sources explained to Bloomberg that Soleimani wasn't being monitored before it was known he was coming through Baghdad's international airport.
Defense and intelligence officials believed the Revolutionary Guard Quds force leader was plotting attacks on Americans inside Iraq and the region — this based on an "intelligence assessment" — the contents of which haven't been made public.
From the moment Trump was briefed on the matter it was only known to a tightly restricted group of aides within the cabinet, as even White House communications officials "were excluded from the planning," notes Bloomberg. And further Bloomberg's sources reveal that:
The White House opted against notifying Congress ahead of the attack out of concern for security, a person familiar with the matter said. The Department of Homeland Security, which is partially responsible for deterring potential Iranian retaliation on U.S. soil, was only notified of the Soleimani strike after the fact.
However, select "friendly" Congressional leaders were let in on the discussions, most notably South Carolina Republican and outspoken Iran hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Inside ornate Mar-a-Lago suites commandeered as makeshift situation rooms, Trump hosted top advisers and certain friendly members of Congress on Tuesday to discuss a strike taking out the commander of Iran's security and intelligence services.
In between rounds of golf and dinners with his family over the next 48 hours, he was updated on specific intelligence showing multiple threats to Americans from Iran in the region -- and on the expected movement of Qasem Soleimani to Baghdad, where he was taken out by an American drone on Thursday.
Top advisers and military brass also sought to offer Trump a view of what the kill might mean for the region, for the United States and for his presidency.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been urgently flown in from Washington to advise the president based on the new intelligence.
The ensuing debate over whether to act centered on the endless unforeseen consequences and "escalation risk" that assassinating Iran's most influential military leader and close friend to the Ayatollah and Iranian president might entail.
"The morning after the strike, Trump abandoned plans to play a round of golf and instead spent time surveying his orbit of advisers on the kill order. He was defiant, according to some of the people he spoke with, and defensive," Bloomberg reports. "But he also appeared to be freshly aware of the gravity of his role and the power he wields, unsure of how Iran would respond."
During the whole affair, others who had attended holiday and New Year's events with the president described him as “calm, cool and collected.” According to Politico, conservative radio host Howie Carr, who'd been among the first to speak to Trump at Mar-a-Lago moments after the news first broke, said “I had no idea there was anything out of the ordinary going on until I got home.”
Concerning initial questions of how Soleimani could have been traveling so visibly and "out in the open" through Baghdad's large international hub, one Republican foreign policy analyst had this to say: “We’ve known every minute of every day where Soleimani is for years—there’s no moment of any given day where five or six intelligence agencies can’t tell you where he is,” according to Politico. “It’s been one of his talking points: The Americans can find me any time, they just don’t dare hit me.”
This despite Israeli officials and media for the past two years touting that Tel Aviv has given a 'green light' for his assassination should the opportunity present itself.
As Politico aptly summarizes: "That calculation proved misguided in the wee hours of January 3 in Iraq, where Soleimani landed amid spiraling tensions between U.S.- and Iranian-allied factions."
A senior defense official concluded, “He arrived at the airport and we had a target of opportunity, and based on the president’s direction, we took it.”