Republican Senator Mike Lee Blasts “Insane” Iran Briefing
“I find it insulting and I find it demeaning to the Constitution of the United States. It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong… They had to leave after 75 minutes while they were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public. I find that to be absolutely insane.” – Sen. Mike Lee
Republican Senator Mike Lee slammed the Trump administration on Wednesday for its “insane” private briefing on the legal justification for assassinating a top Iranian general last week, saying administration officials provided no justification for their claim that the strike was necessary to prevent an “imminent threat” on American lives, and that briefers “discouraged us from even having a debate on the Senate floor” about restraining the president’s war powers without congressional authorization.
“I find it insulting and I find it demeaning to the Constitution of the United States,” Lee said, adding, “It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong. … They are appearing before a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might take. They had to leave after 75 minutes while they were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public. I find that to be absolutely insane.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN that the Iranian general was planning an action that would put “dozens if not hundreds of America lives at risk.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters this week that it was “more fair to say” that the imminent threat was “days,” as opposed to weeks, away.
Officials and lawmakers have offered diverging accounts, however, with one official telling The New York Times that the new intelligence indicated nothing but “a normal Monday in the Middle East. Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi said that Soleimani was in Iraq by his invitation in an effort to deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Pompeo had been pushing the move for months.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) calls Iran briefing "probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue"pic.twitter.com/Gg5AZTLfmJ
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 8, 2020
“I can say that after that briefing — that briefing is what changed my mind. … I’m now going to support it. I walked into the briefing undecided. I walked out of that briefing decided specifically because of what happened in that briefing,” Lee made clear that because of the briefing he would now join in a war-powers resolution introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, which President Trump condemned on Thursday as a “Democrat Fraud.”
Hope that all House Republicans will vote against Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s War Powers Resolution. Also, remember her “speed & rush” in getting the Impeachment Hoax voted on & done. Well, she never sent the Articles to the Senate. Just another Democrat fraud. Presidential Harassment!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2020
Sen. Rand Paul also said he would vote for the war-powers resolution, which would restrain the president’s authority to launch future military actions without authorization. “I think we need to have a debate about separation of powers,” he said. The Constitution grants Congress the authority to declare war, although in recent years, including the Obama administration, the legislative branch has failed to enforce this rule.
Trump allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized Paul and Lee’s support for the war powers act: “I’m going to let people know … to play this game with the War Powers Act, which I think is unconstitutional, is that whether you mean to or not, you’re empowering the enemy.”
“I think it’s sad when people have this fake sort of drape of patriotism, and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot,” said Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday. Other Republican leaders have questioned the patriotism of Democrats who have criticized the Trump administration’s Iran policy, such as Nikki Haley, who accused Democrats of “mourning” for Soleimani and Rep. John Rutherford, who called Rep. Jayapal an “Ayatollah sympathizer.”
I was in the same briefing as you, @RepJayapal, and this is absolutely false. You and your squad of Ayatollah sympathizers are spreading propaganda that divides our nation and strengthens our enemies. #Iran https://t.co/iJJfZAtOTp
— Rep. John Rutherford (@RepRutherfordFL) January 8, 2020
“I love my country,” Paul continued. “I have many family members that serve in the military and continue to serve. I love my country as much as the next guy. For him to insult and say that somehow we’re not as patriotic as he is — he hasn’t even read the Constitution … he insults the Constitution, our Founding Fathers, and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and accusing people of lacking patriotism. I think that’s a low, gutter type of response.”
Democratic lawmakers were also taken aback by the lack of evidence provided in the briefing:
“We did not get information inside that briefing that there was a specific, imminent threat that we were halting through the operation conducted last Thursday night,” Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters. “And I can say I was surprised and saddened to not have that information before us, I think it is likely because it doesn’t exist.”
“There were so many important questions that they did not answer,” Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said of members of Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and CIA Director Gina Haspel, who privately briefed lawmakers on their justification for the drone strike last week
“Every time we were told, ‘Absolutely, there was an imminent threat you should just see the information, it’s really imminent.’ And nothing was shown to us,” said Rep. Mark Pocan after the House briefing. “Over and over and over the question was asked. And nothing more was given to us about this.”
“As the questions began to get tough, they walked out,” Schumer said. “I’ve asked for a commitment that they all come back within a week; we have not gotten that commitment.”