Graham was briefed on the Iran strike while golfing with Trump. Pelosi says she was left in the dark

Only Lindsey Graham so far appears to have gotten a heads up about the strike, which could plunge the U.S. into war

By Igor Derysh

Deputy Politics Editor

Published January 3, 2020 1:34PM (EST)

 (AP/Patrick Semansky)
(AP/Patrick Semansky)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., decried President Donald Trump’s decision to order the killing of a top Iranian official and escalate tensions with the Middle Eastern nation without informing Congress.

Pelosi condemned Trump’s “dangerous escalation of tensions” with Iran, saying the drone strike that killed a top Iranian military commander was carried out without authorization from Congress.

“The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region,” she said.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, told Fox News that he got a briefing while golfing with Trump in Florida.

“I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida,” he said Friday. “I appreciate being brought into the orbit. I really appreciate President Trump letting the world know you cannot kill an American without [sic] impunity.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was also not briefed on the strike, CNN reported.

The Pentagon said Thursday that Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force unit who was widely considered the second-most powerful official in Iran. The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia.

Soleimani was “extraordinarily close to the Supreme Leader of Iran” and was “more powerful than Iran’s president,” journalist Yashar Ali wrote on Twitter. His forces were “responsible for assassinations, terrorism, and unconventional warfare that Iran supports in countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen… [and] for successful and attempted terrorist acts and assassinations in countries like Argentina, the United States, India, and Germany.”

“Killing Soleimani is not like killing the head of a terrorist [organization],” he added. “It's like killing the head of a terrorist organization and a head of state. You have to treat it as such and the US has not DIRECTLY engaged in assassinations on that level in decades.”

The Pentagon said the attack was carried out to “protect U.S. personnel abroad” after thousands of protesters and militia members stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in response to American airstrikes that killed dozens of militia members.

"[Soleimani] had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months, including the attack on Dec. 27, culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel," the Pentagon said in a statement. "General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Trump ordered the drone strike to disrupt an “imminent attack” in the region.

"We don't seek war with Iran,” he told Fox News.

But the State Department warned Americans in Iraq to flee the country “immediately” on Friday amid fears of “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed on Twitter that “Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”

Iranian media reported that the death prompted a massive protest march in Tehran.

Iraqi officials also announced that they would hold an emergency Parliament session on Saturday. A top Parliament official said the meeting will make "decisive decisions that put an end to US presence inside Iraq."

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi called the strike a “dangerous escalation” that will ignite a “devastating war in Iraq, the region and the world,” adding that the drone strike violated Iraqi sovereignty.

Trump, for his part, appeared to taunt Iranian leaders Friday morning on Twitter.

“Iran never won a war,” he wrote, adding that Soleimani “has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught!”

“He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself,” he continued. “While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!”

Democrats warned that Trump’s strike risked further destabilizing the region, possibly plunging the U.S. into another war.

“I’m going to do everything I can to prevent a war with Iran, because if you think the war in Iraq was a disaster, my guess is that war in Iran would be even worse. . . . So let’s work together and prevent that war. And if people want to criticize me for that, go for it. That’s OK. I don’t apologize to anybody,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a video posted online.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that “no American will mourn” Soleimani’s death but warned that Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”

Soleimani “supported terror and sowed chaos,” Biden said, but “none of that negates the fact that this is a hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region.”

“We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East,” he added. “I fear this Administration has not demonstrated at any turn the discipline or long-term vision necessary -- and the stakes could not be higher.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also warned that the airstrike could lead the U.S. into war.

“Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” she tweeted. “But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.”

The strike drew mixed reactions from Trump’s supporters on Fox News. Host Sean Hannity praised the killing as "a huge victory and total leadership by the president" and "the opposite of what happened in Benghazi."

But his colleague Tucker Carlson said that Trump was “out-maneuvered” by hawkish advisers who he said were pushing America “toward war despite what the president wants.”

"There's been virtually no debate or even discussion about this, but America appears to be lumbering toward a new Middle East war," he said.

If Trump goes to war with Iran, “he’s cooked,” Carlson added.

Bloomberg News reporter Sahil Kapur pointed out that Trump repeatedly — and falsely — alleged that former President Barack Obama was planning to attack Iran to help his re-election.

Obama “will attack Iran in the not too distant future because it will help him win the election,” Trump tweeted in 2011, a call which repeated throughout 2012.

“Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in a tailspin -- watch for him to launch strike in Libya or Iran,” he wrote in October 2012.

He added in another tweet, “Obama will attack Iran in order to get re-elected.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's Deputy News and Politics Editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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