Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds an end of year press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that he did not see tangible evidence showing that Iran planned to strike four U.S. embassies, despite President Trump’s claims that an attack at multiple embassies was “imminent.”
The president’s comments came just a week after he ordered the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, which sparked retaliatory Iranian strikes on bases in Iraq that housed American troops and nearly brought the two countries to war. The Trump administration has avoided giving specific details about the intelligence that prompted the drone strike that killed Soleimani at the Baghdad airport.
Esper, who was pressed on Trump’s assertions in several morning television interviews, said he did not see evidence of a specific tangible threat from Iran, but said he agreed with the president that Iran “probably” had a plan to strike.
“The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was he believed,” Esper said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “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,” he added. “The embassy is the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”
Trump told Laura Ingraham in a Fox News interview on Friday that he did not believe Americans had a right to more specifics on the intelligence that prompted the drone strike, but added that he thought it would be the American Embassy in Baghdad.
Many members of Congress have argued that there was incomplete information in White House briefings about Soleimani’s killing, and questioned whether an attack was imminent as the administration continues to defend the decision for the drone strike.
In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Esper was pressed again about whether there was a threat to four embassies, to which he responded that Trump “didn’t cite intelligence” and rather said “there probably could have been” a threat.
“There was intelligence that there was an intent to target the U.S. embassy in Baghdad,” Esper said. “What the president said with regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well. He said that he believed that they probably, they could have been targeting the embassies in the region.”