Mike Lee lambasts briefing on Soleimani strike as "worst" he's received on military issue
By Melissa Quinn
/ CBS News
Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky excoriated a briefing from top Trump administration officials on the targeted drone strike that led to the death of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force. Lee called it "worst briefing" he's received on a military issue in his nine years in the Senate.
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.
The House is set to vote Thursday on a measure designed to limit Mr. Trump's military actions regarding Iran. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, has also introduced a war powers resolution in the Senate.
Lee said he will back Kaine's resolution once changes are made.
"I walked into the briefing undecided. I walked out decided, specifically because of what happened in that briefing," he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, CIA Director Gina Haspel and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire conducted the briefing to the full Senate on last week's drone strike. The group met with House members to discuss the strike earlier in the day.
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."
A White House official confirmed to CBS News' Paula Reid that Lee did not get to ask a question, but said the briefing lasted 90 minutes. The official added the White House hoped to come back to answer questions.
The White House left the briefing with the impression that some lawmakers were upset with the decision to use force, but not with how the briefing was conducted, the official said.
Paul said he also intends to support Kaine's war powers resolution.
"I wanted to hear the intelligence first," he told reporters, "What I heard was less than satisfying."
Mr. Trump ordered the drone strike that took out Soleimani in Baghdad last week. The president and administration officials have said the decision was in response to an "imminent threat" to American diplomats and service members. The White House on Saturday notified Congress of the strike under the War Powers Act.
Senate Democrats said after Wednesday's briefing that information they were provided by the administration did not describe an "imminent threat."
On Tuesday, Iran launched ballistic missiles against Iraqi military bases that house U.S. forces in retaliation for the strike that killed Soleimani.
Paula Reid contributed to this report.
First published on January 8, 2020 / 6:12 PM
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