SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee said Sunday that Trump administration officials didn’t say anything about Iran targeting four U.S. embassies as justification for the air strike that killed a top military leader.
“I didn’t hear anything about that. Several of my colleagues have said the same. That was news to me. It certainly wasn’t something I recall being raised in the classified briefing,” Lee said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Lee also appeared on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday where he said he first heard President Donald Trump last Friday on Fox News say that he had to strike quickly because intelligence showed Iran could have attacked four American embassies.
The Utah Republican said that concerned him but the problem was not with the president.
“Those who were briefing us, I believe, would have done a different job under the light of day, had television cameras been there, than they did in private where his boss couldn’t see what they were saying. They were not helpful and didn’t reflect well on the president’s great restraint that he’s shown in deference to the American people,” Lee said on “Face the Nation.”
The briefing included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
While the briefing infuriated Lee, he continues to be a staunch supporter of the president.
Lee touted Monday on his campaign website and on Facebook his role as Trump’s reelection campaign chairman for Utah and his effort to acquit him of wrongdoing in the upcoming impeachment trial.
“The reason I am working so closely with the White House on this issue is because the president has every reason to be confident about this, every reason to be unapologetic and defiantly confident about his case,” he wrote.
In the post, Lee urges Utahns to sign up to help rally support for Trump.
Esper said Sunday on “Face the Nation” that he had seen no specific evidence that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani planned to attack four embassies, but believed the strike would occur.
“The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was he believed,” Esper said on the news program. “I didn’t see one, with regard to four embassies. What I’m saying is that I shared the president’s view that probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies.”
Trump went after the media and Democrats for questioning justification for the attack that killed Soleimani.
“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was “imminent” or not, & was my team in agreement. The answer to both is a strong YES, but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” he tweeted Monday.
Lee said killing the Iranian military leader was good for U.S. security.
“But it does matter that we give the details to members of Congress and it does matter to figure out where we go from here, and to make sure that any further action is authorized by Congress,” he said.
Lee said he was frustrated that Congress didn’t receive much in the briefing beyond general statements and what was already publicly available through the media. He said he still hasn’t been able to ascertain specific details about the imminence of the attack.
But in a Facebook post he said that wasn’t the president’s fault.
“It was the fault of those providing the briefing. But even more than that, it was the fault of Congress, which has in recent decades taken itself — and therefore the American people — out of the process of debating and declaring war. It shouldn’t be surprising to us when executive branch officials respond accordingly, often writing Congress out of the war equation,” he wrote.
Lee said the issue isn’t just about Trump and the current situation with Iran, but what any future president could do to get the U.S. into any war.
Asked on “State of the Union” whether he’s worried that mixed messages on the reasons for the strike call into question the integrity of the information coming from the administration, Lee said he’s learned to not take the federal government’s word at face value.
“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,” he said.
Lee said that doesn’t mean the government always lies or the people who run it are inherently evil, but it’s important to asks questions to get the details.