Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that he “didn’t see” specific evidence that supported President Trump’s claim on Friday that the Iranian commander killed in a U.S. airstrike was plotting attacks against four U.S. embassies.
“What the president said was he believed that it probably and could’ve been attacks against additional embassies,” Esper told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“I shared that view, I know other members of the national security team shared that view, that’s why I deployed thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites throughout the region,” he added.
NEWS: @EsperDod tells @margbrennan he "didn't see" specific evidence showing Iran planned to strike 4 U.S. embassies, despite @realDonaldTrump saying an attack at multiple embassies was “imminent." Watch more of Esper's interview on @FacetheNation today. pic.twitter.com/1Nud8waok1
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 12, 2020
After telling reporters that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike this month, sought to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham in a Friday interview: “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies” Soleimani was plotting against.
Esper claimed on Sunday that the president made no citation of “a specific piece of evidence,” adding that Trump was just making clear what he believed to be the case.
“Are you saying there wasn’t one?” CBS’s Margaret Brennan asked.
“I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies,” Esper responded. “What I’m saying is I share the presidents’ view.”
He added that administration officials “do not expect any further attacks.”
Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Esper said intelligence showed “there was an intent to target the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.”
“What the president said with regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well,” he added. “He said that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region. I believe that as well, as did other national security team members.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told “State of the Union” that he is “worried” about the lack of specifics as “a United States senator, and as a voter and citizen.”
“I have learned not to simply take the federal government’s word at face value,” he said. “Look, we were lied to about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We were lied to for a couple of decades about what was happening in Afghanistan. We’ve been lied to about a lot of things. That’s not to say the government is always lying or the people who run it are inherently evil.”
Lee added he believes the administration believes “they had a basis for concluding that there was an imminent attack,” though it’s “frustrating to be told that and not get the details behind it.”