Defense Chief: No Hard Evidence of Embassy Threats

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that he "didn't see" specific evidence that Iran was readying to attack four U.S. embassies, as President Donald Trump claimed last week, though Esper said he shared Trump's view that such an attack was "probably" in the works.

"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."

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 said 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.

"I didn't see one with regard to four embassies," Esper said of a specific piece of evidence leading to Trump's conclusion. "What I'm saying is I shared the president's view ... my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies."

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."

National security adviser Robert O’Brien on Sunday echoed Esper's comments, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that the U.S. "had exquisite intelligence" that Iran looking to attack U.S. facilities throughout the region.

"The president’s interpretation of that intelligence is very consistent with it," he added. "So I think this has been a Washington thing—when we tell the American people there was exquisite intelligence and there was going to be an attack on Americans, we had to stop that."

The comments came as the Trump administration continues to face questions over what the "imminent" threat Soleimani posed prior to Trump ordering a military airstrike against him outside of Baghdad's airport.

The Defense Department said Soleimani, the leader of Iran's Quds Forces, approved attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and orchestrated attacks on U.S.-led coalition bases in Iraq. Soleimani's death came days after protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

But in the days since Soleimani's killing, the Trump administration has remained tight-lipped about the "imminent" threat they claimed Soleimani posed, particularly on if Soleimani was acting out of step in comparison with his years of similar planning as a leader in Iran's proxy wars and other covert operations, which have led to U.S. deaths. Prior administrations opted against killing the top Iranian official.

Democratic and even some Republican members of Congress have fumed that the administration has refused to provide them with the backing of their assessment, even in classified briefings. Vice President Mike Pence told NBC News last week the administration could not provide Congress with some of the "most compelling" intelligence behind its decision to because doing so "could compromise" sources and methods.

Last week, the House approved a war powers resolution aimed at limiting Trump's military actions against Iran.

Iran retaliated for Soleimani's death by launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces last week. The Iranian government said its military was also responsible for mistakenly shooting down a commercial airliner as it attacked the bases in Iraq, killing all 176 people on board the Ukrainian Airlines Flight.

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Justice Department Effectively Ends Clinton Investigation After Finding Nothing: Report

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A prosecutor was investigating Trump’s claim that the FBI did not properly look into Hillary Clinton’s role in a uranium deal while she was secretary of state.

Department of Justice inquiry into Hillary Clinton that began after conservatives demanded more investigations into the former Democratic presidential candidate is reportedly ending with no actual results.

Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed U.S. Attorney John Huber in 2018 to look into concerns raised by President Donald Trump and his Republican allies that the FBI did not properly look into Clinton’s involvement in a uranium deal while she was secretary of state in the Obama administration.

Huber allegedly reviewed documents and spoke with federal law enforcement officials in Arkansas who were handling an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Though the inquiry has not formally ended and no official notice has been sent to the Justice Department or to Congress, Huber has effectively finished his assignment and found nothing worth pursuing, current and former officials told The Washington Post in a report published Thursday. HuffPost has not been able to independently confirm that the inquiry has ended.

Canadian mining company Uranium One, which had major U.S. holdings, was sold in 2010 to a Russian firm while Clinton was secretary of state. The sale required approval from nine U.S. agencies, including the State Department, before it could proceed. Conservative media and critics of the 2016 Democratic nominee have falsely claimed that the sale was a quid pro quo for donations to the nonprofit Clinton Foundation.

The State Department did not have the power to unilaterally approve or reject the sale, and Clinton was not actually directly involved in the approval process. The original FBI investigation into whether Clinton had ties to the deal found no evidence of wrongdoing, but Sessions revived the inquiry in late 2017 after facing pressure from Trump. 

Huber’s effective conclusion of his review is likely to anger many Republicans who hoped the top prosecutor from Utah would validate their long-held conspiracy theories about Clinton.

Attorney General William Barr, a Trump nominee who succeeded Sessions, has previously supported the president’s call to investigate Clinton and has questioned the need for Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

But Trump has largely shifted his focus away from Huber’s investigation and toward U.S. Attorney John Durham’s review of the origins of the Russia investigation, which concluded with a report that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election in order to help Trump win. Barr appointed Durham to the review last year, though he allegedly sees no evidence so far that the Russia probe was a setup by intelligence officials, as Trump claims.

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TRUMP: NEW SANCTIONS — HINTS NO ESCALATION

The president addressed the nation for the first time since ordering the killing of Iran’s top general last week.

resident Donald Trump addressed the nation Wednesday for the first time since ordering an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week, prompting Iran to fire more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops Tuesday night.

Speaking from the grand foyer at the White House, Trump opened his remarks with a pledge to disrupt Iranian efforts to obtain nuclear material, and later announced additional sanctions on the country.

He said Tuesday’s attack did not result in any American or Iraqi casualties, and the damage sustained at the bases was “minimal.”

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a good thing for the world,” Trump said, flanked by military brass and joined by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Several Trump administration officials told CNN they believed Iran may have intentionally targeted areas so as to avoid American casualties, signaling an attempt to deescalate the crisis.

That analysis dovetails with a statement from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who positioned the missile salvo as a defensive measure.

“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he tweeted after the attack.

Iran launched over a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi military facilities housing U.S. troops on Tuesday night, an act of retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani last week. Soleimani’s death has brought renewed volatility to the standoff between the U.S. and Iran as leaders of both countries threatened each other with destruction and reprisal attacks in the days after the airstrike.

Iran targeted two main locations in the strike ― a base in Erbil and the Al Asad Air Base, which officials said was hit with 17 missiles.

The U.S. and Iran have been engaged in an escalating series of clashes since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal back in May 2018, sometimes nearing open conflict during the disputes. But the U.S. assassination of Soleimani, a top Iranian military official who was central to its foreign policy and operations abroad, marked the most dramatic rise in tensions yet.

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened “forceful revenge” against the U.S. after Soleimani’s killing, and proclaimed after the missile strikes on Wednesday that the “corrupt presence of the United States in the region should come to an end.” Iran also earlier announced on Sunday that it would step further away from agreements under the 2015 nuclear deal meant to curb its nuclear weapons program.

Although both Trump and Iranian officials appeared to not push for further ramping up of the conflict following Iran’s strike on Iraqi military facilities on Tuesday, neither has there been a dramatic deescalation in the dispute. Trump tweeted that “all is well” after the attack and proclaimed that the U.S. has the most powerful military in the world. There are over 5,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq as part of the operation against the Islamic State militant group.

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https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-speech-iran-attack-missiles_n_5e15f8fbc5b687c7eb5ec518

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