Prez flips script af­ter aides cov­ered for him, sez past acts rea­son enough

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY CHRIS SOMMERFELD­T

Pres­i­dent Trump dras­ti­cally changed his tune Mon­day, say­ing “it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter” if Iran’s top gen­eral was plot­ting at­tacks on Amer­i­cans at the time of his death.

Trump’s about-face con­tra­dicts his and his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­peated as­ser­tion that the pres­i­dent only or­dered the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani to pre­vent the Ira­nian Quds Force gen­eral from car­ry­ing out “im­mi­nent” at­tacks on Amer­i­can troops and diplo­mats in the Mid­dle East.

“The Fake News Me­dia and their Demo­crat Part­ners are work­ing hard to de­ter­mine whether or not the fu­ture at­tack by ter­ror­ist Soleimani was ‘im­mi­nent’ or not, & was my team in agree­ment,” Trump tweeted. “The an­swer to both is a strong YES, but it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter be­cause of his hor­ri­ble past!”

The mixed sig­nals from Trump came as U.S. of­fi­cials con­firmed they knew be­fore­hand of Iran’s mis­sile strike on two Amer­i­can bases in Iraq last week.

The in­com­ing mis­sile fire was de­tected by de­fense sys­tems, Lt. Col. An­toinette Chase told reporters, and al­lowed for troops at the bases to seek shel­ter about two hours be­fore the mis­siles struck. No one was hurt or killed in the Wed­nes­day at­tack as a re­sult.

Iran launched the mis­siles in re­tal­i­a­tion for the Trumporder­ed air strike that killed Soleimani out­side a Bagh­dad air­port on Jan. 3.

Trump’s Mon­day tweet was only the lat­est con­tra­dic­tion in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s shift­ing nar­ra­tive for why it killed Soleimani.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper seem­ingly threw Trump un­der the bus Sun­day, say­ing he had seen no in­tel­li­gence to back up the pres­i­dent’s claim a few days ear­lier that Soleimani was look­ing to tar­get four U.S. em­bassies.

For­mer U.S. of­fi­cials say they can think of no sce­nario un­der which a pres­i­dent would be privy to mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence that a de­fense sec­re­tary did not know of.

“Un­less stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures for sharing in­tel­li­gence in the USG have changed rad­i­cally since the time I served in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, there is no way that the pres­i­dent, but not the sec­re­tary of de­fense, would have this kind of in­tel. No way,” tweeted Michael McFaul, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Rus­sia.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, mean­while, said last week he didn’t know “ex­actly where” or “ex­actly when” Soleimani was go­ing to strike, only to back­track and claim the Ira­nian com­man­der

def­i­nitely planned to at­tack Amer­i­can em­bassies.

Mem­bers of Congress on both sides of the aisle have said Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials did not pro­vide suf­fi­cient ex­pla­na­tions in clas­si­fied brief­ings last week as to why the U.S. needed to kill Soleimani, who ef­fec­tively served as Iran’s sec­ond-in-com­mand di­rectly un­der the supreme leader.

Pre­vi­ous Amer­i­can pres­i­dents have had the op­por­tu­nity to kill Soleimani but opted against it, rea­son­ing his death could spark all-out war in the Mid­dle East. The ruth­less Ira­nian gen­eral is con­sid­ered re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of hun­dreds of Amer­i­can forces and al­lies.

Ten­sions be­tween Iran and the U.S. have reached a fever pitch in the past few days.

In a tragic de­vel­op­ment, Iran ad­mit­ted over the week­end that it ac­ci­den­tally shot down a Ukrainian pas­sen­ger plane af­ter fir­ing a vol­ley of bal­lis­tic mis­siles at U.S. mil­i­tary bases in Iraq last week in re­tal­i­a­tion for Soleimani’s killing. All 176 peo­ple on board the plane died, in­clud­ing dozens of Ira­ni­ans.

Hun­dreds of en­raged Ira­ni­ans have taken to the streets of Tehran to protest the regime in the wake of the ac­ci­den­tal strike, and Trump cheered them on Mon­day.

“Wow! The won­der­ful Ira­nian pro­test­ers re­fused to step on, or in any way den­i­grate, our Great Amer­i­can Flag,” Trump tweeted in ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to news footage of pro­test­ers. “It was put on the street in or­der for them to tram­ple it, and they walked around it in­stead. Big progress!”

Pres­i­dent Trump changed his ex­pla­na­tion Mon­day for air strike (above) that killed Ira­nian Gen. Qassem Soleimani (be­low r.) even af­ter Sec­re­tary of De­fense Mark Esper (be­low l.) and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo back­tracked af­ter ini­tially say­ing there was no in­tel on Soleimani plot­ting at­tacks on U.S. em­bassies, as Trump had said.

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