Democrats demand answers on Soleimani killing: 'This is not a game'

Image: Protesters gather at a demonstration against the killing of Iranian
Protesters gather at a demonstration against the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Jan. 5, 2020. Copyright Lefteris Pitarakis AP
Copyright Lefteris Pitarakis AP
By Allan Smith with NBC News Politics
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"That's what got us into the Iraq War," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen. "There was no WMD. I'm saying that they have an obligation to present the evidence."


Democrats on Sunday demanded answers about the killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as tensions mounted between the U.S. and Iran and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that the U.S. had faced an imminent threat.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told ABC's "This Week" he worried that Trump's decision "will get us into what he calls another endless war in the Middle East." He called for Congress "to assert" its authority and prevent Trump from "either bumbling or impulsively getting us into a major war."

Speaking with "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said public assurances from the Trump Administration that such a threat was "imminent" were simply not enough.

"I think we learned the hard way ... in the Iraq War, that administrations sometimes manipulate and cherry-pick intelligence to further their political goals," he said. "That's what got us into the Iraq War. There was no WMD. I'm saying that they have an obligation to present the evidence."

Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender and the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told CNN's "State of the Union" that until the administration provides answers on "how this decision was reached ... then this move is questionable, to say the least."

"I still worry about whether this president really understands that this is not a show, this is not a game," he said. "Lives are at stake right now."

The already fraught relationship between the U.S. and Iran has significantly deteriorated in the days since Soleimani's death, which came days after rioters sought to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a U.S. contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk.

The Defense Department said Soleimani, the high-profile commander of Iran's secretive Quds Force and accused of controlling Iranian-linked proxy militias across the Middle East, orchestrated the attacks on coalition bases in Iraq, including the strike that killed the U.S. contractor. In addition, the Pentagon said Soleimani approved attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

"We took action last night to stop a war," Trump said in a televised address to the nation on Friday of the airstrike that killed Soleimani near Baghdad's airport. "We did not take action to start a war."

But the administration has yet to make public evidence that Soleimani was acting out of step in comparison to his years of similar planning as a leader in Iran's proxy wars and other covert operations, which have led to American deaths.

Iran and its allies vowed to retaliate for the general's death, and Trump has since escalated his language in response.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted that the U.S. had 52 Iranian targets in its sights, including "some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture" that it will "HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD" if Iran retaliates for Soleimani's death. In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Trump of threatening a "war crime" by targeting cultural sites, tweeting, "That is, a big(ly) 'no no.'"

On Sunday, Iraq's parliament voted to ask its government to end the presence of U.S. troops in the country while Iranian state TV reported that Iran will no longer abide by any limits of the 2015 nuclear deal — an agreement Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018.

Pompeo told "This Week" that the administration will "behave lawfully" when striking Iranian targets, responding to accusations that hitting such cultural targets would violate international law.

"We'll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will," Pompeo said, adding, "I've seen what we are planning in terms of the target set. I'm sure the Department of Defense is continuing to develop options. The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America."

Pompeo said "the senior leaders who had access to all of the intelligence, there was no skepticism," adding that "the intelligence assessment made clear that no action, allowing Soleimani to continue his plotting, his planning, his terror campaign created more risks than taking the action that we took last week. We reduced risks."

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Pompeo said the U.S. "would have been culpably negligent" if it didn't launch the attack," adding. "It may be that there's a little noise here in the interim, that the Iranians make a choice to respond."

And on "Face the Nation," Pompeo said the administration understands "the obligation" to share "why it is we're taking the actions we can and we will do so."


Elsewhere on "Meet the Press," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., suggested that Trump may have decided to strike Soleimani to shift focus away from his impending Senate impeachment trial.

"I think the question people reasonably ask is, 'Next week Donald Trump faces the start potentially of an impeachment trial. And why now?'" Warren, a 2020 presidential contender, said. "I think people are starting to ask, 'Why now did he do this? Why not delay?' And why this one is so dangerous is that he is truly taking us right to the edge of war. And that is something that puts us at risk. It puts the Middle East at risk. It puts the entire world at risk."

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