Esper: I 'Didn't See' Specific Evidence of Iranian Threats to U.S. Embassies

Republican Senator Mike Lee says threat to four embassies Trump claimed to be 'imminent' was not mentioned during the congressional briefing

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U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks about airstrikes by the U.S. military in Iraq and Syria in Palm Beach, Florida, December 29, 2019.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks about airstrikes by the U.S. military in Iraq and Syria in Palm Beach, Florida, December 29, 2019.Credit: Tom Brenner/ REUTERS

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday that he "didn't see" specific evidence that a top Iranian military commander was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, despite claims by the president that an attack had been imminent when a drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani.

"I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies," U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News's Laura Ingraham on Friday.

Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Margaret Brennan asked Esper about claims Trump made about "imminent" threats to American embassies two days prior.  

"Well, the president didn't say there was a tangible – he didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said is he probably – he believed, could have been," Esper said.

When asked specifically if there was no threat, Esper responded: "I didn't see one with regard to four embassies. What I'm saying is I share the president's view that probably – my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country."  

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the Trump administration didn't tell Congress that Iran was allegedly plotting attacks on embassies during a briefing on the threat Soleimani posed.

"In that briefing, we didn't receive very much information that wasn't already available through public media sources," Lee said.

When asked by CNN's Jake Tapper about the threat on four embassies during the briefing, Lee said: "I didn't hear anything about that and several of my colleagues have said the same so that was news to me. It certainly wasn't something that was raised in the classified briefing."

Tapper then played a clip of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that lawmakers were briefed of the specific threat.  "All of the intelligence that we briefed that you heard today, I assure you they were done so in an unclassified setting that we provide in a classified setting as well," Pomepo said. 

"I'm not sure exactly what he's trying to say there. I don't recall being told, 'look, there were four embassies.' I'm sure there was a mention of at least one embassy," Lee said in response.  

Lee reiterated that he believed that the development is "good for the security of the American people."

“I believe that the briefers and the president believe that they had a basis for concluding that there was an imminent attack... It’s just frustrating to be told that and not get the details behind it,” Lee concluded.  

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