Top administration officials to brief Congress on Iran as Democrats move to rein in Trump

US Senator Chris Murphy says the White House has not given Congress any substantial information on the circumstances surrounding the killing of Iranian General Soleimani.

Posted: Jan 6, 2020 4:50 PM
Updated: Jan 6, 2020 4:50 PM

The Trump administration will brief House and Senate lawmakers behind closed doors on Wednesday about the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, four sources familiar with the plans told CNN.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and CIA Director Gina Haspel are expected to brief senators, the sources said. It is unclear if the same officials will also speak with House lawmakers.

News of the briefing comes as lawmakers continue to question the administration's motives for conducting the strike and challenge its shifting explanations as to why it was legally justified.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to President Donald Trump Monday calling on him to declassify the formal notification given to Congress regarding the US drone strike that killed Soleimani.

"It is critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner," says the letter. "An entirely classified notification is simply not appropriate in a democratic society, and there appears to be no legitimate justification for classifying this notification."

Several sources told CNN that the notification was brief, contained few operational details and essentially laid out the President's authorities to carry out the strike. That lack of detail is what has fueled questions about why it was classified to begin with.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway squarely criticized the letter when asked about it Monday, accusing the Democratic lawmakers of "chest-thumping."

"They also should calm down and celebrate, not denigrate, the fact that the world's greatest terrorist, who is single-handedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and the injuries of thousands of others, they should celebrate, not denigrate, that fact," she said.

Trump on Sunday signaled that he wouldn't rule out releasing some of the intelligence amid lingering skepticism from lawmakers and the public about whether the strike was justified.

"We may discuss that," he said when questioned aboard Air Force One.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also moved to try and rein in Trump's authority to order military action.

She sent a letter Sunday to Democratic members of Congress announcing the House will introduce and vote on a "War Powers Resolution to limit the President's military actions regarding Iran" amid rising tension.

The resolution, Pelosi writes, "reasserts Congress's long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further Congressional action is taken, the Administration's military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days."

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, has also introduced a war powers resolution that will likely force a floor debate in the GOP-led Senate.

Meanwhile, Trump is doubling down on his threat to attack Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliates against US persons or assets despite the fact that such a move would likely qualify as a war crime.

Several defense officials have told CNN, however, that the US will not strike cultural sites and will only act within international laws.

But State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus would not rule out the possibility in an interview with CNN Monday when pressed as to how the US can even justify the threat of such strikes, which would be war crimes.

"We will do anything within our power to protect American citizens, to protect American lives and we consistently told the Iranian regime any attack that on Americans, any attack that will put Americans in harm's way, whether it's from the militias we saw in Iraq or whether it's regime itself would not go unaccounted for," Ortagus told CNN's Becky Anderson.

"So, we will defend ourselves, we will defend our allies, we will defend our people and do anything that's obviously legally possible for us to do so," she added.

Conway also defended Trump's comments on targeting Iranian cultural sites but would not provide further clarity, echoing Pompeo that "we will be within the law."

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It was a bright and breezy Friday for northern California, however the wind has been much stronger over Modoc County where a High Wind Warning is in effect through this evening. Stronger wind and cooler air will define our weather Saturday.
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