By Robert A. Vella
President Trump sent three White House officials to Congress yesterday to explain why he ordered the assassination of a top Iranian military official which escalated into a dangerous and still unresolved international crisis. The central issue involved the “imminent threat” posed by General Soleimani which the administration proclaimed as justification for the otherwise illegal killing. Since his command over the Republican Party is so strong, Trump probably assumed that the briefing would be a slam-dunk with only a smattering of dissent from Democrats. In any case, the briefing turned into a disaster. The lack of justifying evidence was so egregious that several Republican senators balked at what was presented including two dependable Trump supporters who expressed outrage (which subsequently sparked retaliation from the ethically-deficient Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham) causing the three officials to abruptly terminate the briefing.
Resolutions are now working their way through both the House of Representatives and Senate which would restore Congress’ constitutionally-based authority to mandate war concerning Iran. Trump, having already lost the battle to halt Iran’s growing influence in Iraq as well as its intent to develop nuclear technology (due to his own incompetence), is now facing the embarrassing prospect of having his hands tied by Congress; and, all this is occurring as his impeachment trial is ramping-up in the Senate. Once again, Trump’s presumption of a positive outcome in that process is not guaranteed by any means. Although, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has apparently prevailed in not allowing the scheduling of witness testimony as a precondition for the trial, he will not be able to prevent votes on individual witnesses (e.g. former National Security Advisor John Bolton) after the trial begins. On such votes, a majority of senators will be determinative in each instance. That means Democrats will need four supporting Republicans, or three supporting Republicans and a tie-breaking ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts (who supersedes the usual role of the Vice President – i.e. Mike Pence). Moderate Republican senators up for reelection this year (e.g. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Cory Gardner) will be under the public’s microscope in those votes.
Speaking alongside Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said, “I had hoped and expected to receive more information outlining the legal, factual and moral justification for the attack and left somewhat unsatisfied on that front.” He added, “it was probably the worst briefing I’ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.”
“I find this insulting and demeaning,” he said, adding that he now plans to vote in favor of a new war powers resolution from Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. “That briefing changed my mind,” he said.
Paul concurred, saying, “Today, this is Sen. Lee and I saying, we are not abdicating our duty.”
The officials leading the briefing included Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
Lee said it is “not acceptable” for officials from the executive branch — whether it be Defense Department, the CIA or the White House — to tell the Senate that they can’t “debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran.”
“It’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s wrong,” he added.
Lee said the suggestion from the administration’s top military and national security officials that the Senate not debate military action in Iran was “insulting” and “demeaning to the process ordained by the Constitution.”
“They left after 75 minutes. Now I understand these are busy people. They’ve got a lot of demands on their time,” Lee said. “They’re appearing before a coordinate branch of government, a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might undertake. And they had to leave after 75 minutes while they’re in the process of telling us we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public. I find that absolutely insane. I think it’s unacceptable.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is firing back at Sen. Lindsey Graham after the South Carolina Republican accused him of emboldening Iran, saying Graham “insults the Constitution” and is making “low gutter” comments.
“I love my country as much as the next guy, but for him to insult and say that somehow we’re not as patriotic as he is-he hasn’t even read the history of the Constitution,” Paul said.
“He insults the Constitution, our founding fathers, and what we do stand for in this Republic by making light of it, and accusing people of lacking patriotism, I think that’s a low gutter type of response,” Paul added.
The back-and-forth between Paul and Graham comes after a closed-door briefing with top administration officials on the U.S. airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani.
The majority of people around the world have little confidence that President Trump will do the “right thing” in world affairs, according to a new poll published by the Pew Research Center. Despite the unpopularity of Mr. Trump, the U.S. is still viewed favorably by the global community.
The poll found 64% of countries surveyed said they do not have confidence that Mr. Trump will do the “right thing” in world affairs. This sentiment is particularly strong in western Europe, where under 25% of people in Spain, France and Germany say they have confidence in Mr. Trump. The number is lowest in Mexico, where only 8% of people have confidence in Mr. Trump to do the “right thing” in world affairs. Mr. Trump made building a wall on the southern border a critical plank of his presidency.
Conversely, India and the Philippines have relatively high confidence in Mr. Trump, with 56% and 77% confidence, respectively. Mr. Trump has cultivated relationships with the controversial leaders of those two countries, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Israel also has high confidence in Mr. Trump.