Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Sunday that he never saw any specific piece of evidence that Iran was planning an attack on four American embassies, as President Trump had claimed last week as a justification for the strike on an Iranian general that sent the United States and Iran to the brink of war.
“I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies,” Mr. Esper said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But he added: “I share the president’s view that probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”
The muddled message on Sunday by Mr. Esper and other administration officials only added to the public debate over the Jan. 3 strike that killed Iran’s most important general, Qassim Suleimani, and whether there was appropriate justification for the killing. The administration has offered shifting rationales for the strike, first indicating that it was a response to an “imminent” threat and then backing away from that idea, before sporadically reclaiming it.
As critics, including some Republicans, in Congress expressed dismay, administration officials have in recent days often avoided offering specifics about what prompted the airstrike. But Mr. Trump said on Friday that part of the reason was that Iran was planning attacks on four American embassies.
Mr. Esper sounded more supportive of Mr. Trump’s claim in another interview on Sunday, on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“What the president said in regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well,” he said. “And he said he believed that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region.”
But appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, also played down Mr. Trump’s claim of specific, imminent threats to four American embassies in the region. [Continue reading…]