Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Friday morning that he was briefed about the plan to kill Iran’s top military official, Qassim Soleimani, while later on the same day Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that President Donald Trump failed to notify Congress about the attack.
“I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida,” Graham said on Fox News. “I appreciate being brought into the orbit. I really appreciate President Trump letting the world know you cannot kill an American without impunity. We will stand up for our people, and that is an absolutely essential message.”
Graham, a close ally of Trump, was spotted with the president at Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club in Florida earlier this week. Graham also tweeted on Tuesday, Dec. 31 that he was in a meeting with Trump and others “regarding the situation in Iraq,” but it is not clear whether that specific meeting covered the potential strike on Soleimani.
It is unclear whether other members of Congress were also notified about the strike on Soleimani (also known as Qassem Soleimani) prior to his death.
On the same day, speaking on the Senate floor, Schumer said that the operation against Soleimani was conducted “without specific authorization and any advanced notification or consultation with Congress.”
“I’m a member of the Gang of Eight, which is typically briefed in advance of operations of this level of significance. We were not,” Schumer said.
Besides Schumer, the congressional “Gang of Eight“—a colloquial term—includes the House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. “Gang of Eight” members are responsible for congressional oversight of all intelligence agencies and are briefed on classified intelligence matters by the executive branch.
By law, the U.S. president is required “to ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity as required by [the] title,” excepting “extraordinary circumstances” when the president deems that it is “essential to limit access” to information on a covert operation—in such a case, the president is still required to report to the Gang of Eight.
Schumer called Soleimani “a notorious terrorist” and said that “no one should shed a tear over his death.” However, apparently commenting on the lack of a briefing from the president, Schumer said that “a lack of advance consultation and transparency with Congress can lead to hasty and ill-considered decisions.”
“When the security of the nation is at stake, decisions must not be made in a vacuum,” Schumer said. “The framers of the Constitution gave war powers to the legislature and made the executive the commander in chief for the precise reason of forcing the two branches of government to consult with one another when it came to matters of war and peace.”
“It is my view that the president does not have the authority for a war with Iran,” Schumer later added. “If he plans a large increase in troops and potential hostility over a longer time, the administration will require congressional approval and the approval of the American people.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement released Friday that the deadly airstrike was done without congressional approval.
“The administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq … without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of Congress,” she said. “The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region.”
Pelosi also said that the strike on Soleimani “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
The Department of Defense said in a statement late Thursday that Trump ordered the U.S. military to carry out the strike against Soleimani “to protect United States’ personnel abroad,” adding that the 62-year-old Iranian general was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
Trump said on Friday that the strike on Soleimani was intended to prevent a war.
“[The United States] took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” he told reporters in Florida.
“We do not seek regime change. However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors must end and it must end now,” he later said. “I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary and that, in particular, refers to Iran.”
“We will always protect our diplomats, service members, all Americans, and our allies,” he said, adding that Soleimani’s Quds Force killed and injured hundreds of Americans over the years. For any would-be adversary—Iran or otherwise—Trump warned the United States has the strongest military and the greatest ability to gather intelligence in the world.
Graham told Fox News on Friday: “The intelligence was that Soleimani was orchestrating chaos in Iraq at our expense and throughout the region … The president was informed of these potential attacks and he acted. This was a defensive strike to neutralize future attacks that were planned and executed by Soleimani and the popular mobilization front: the Shiite militias in Iraq.”
Soleimani is considered the architect behind Iran’s elite Quds Force—an elite unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that is tasked with Iran’s extra-territorial military operations—including activities to expand Iranian influence in Syria and rocket attacks on Israel. The Quds force reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The force also supports Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemen’s Houthis, and a variety of Shia militia groups in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“He’s not dead today because of what he did in the past, he’s dead today because he miscalculated what President Trump would do regarding future attacks,” said Graham.
Trump, he said, should make it now clear to Iran and its supreme leader that any future attack will put its oil refineries at risk. Iran is one of the world’s top exporters of oil.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the country would take revenge for the attack on Soleimani.
“Years of sincere, brave efforts fighting against the devils & villainous in the world and years of wishing for martyrdom on the path of God finally took the dear Commander of Islam, Soleimani, to this lofty status. His blood was shed by the most barbaric of men,” Khamenei said in a statement on Twitter on Friday.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also issued a statement to Twitter on Friday, saying that the United States’ airstrike was “a villainous and cowardly measure,” and that “the great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”
Meanwhile, Trump wrote on Twitter that Soleimani “should have been taken out many years ago,” noting that the Iranian general “has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more.”
Trump added that Soleimani was “directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself.”
“While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe,” Trump wrote.
The DoD confirmed on Friday that the United States is sending additional troops to the Middle East, saying in an emailed statement that the deployment, destined for Kuwait, is “an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against United States personnel and facilities.”
The United States has deployed 14,000 troops to the Middle East since May 2019, not including the approximately 700 troops it sent from the IRF earlier this week after Iran-backed militias breached the outer walls of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
Jack Phillips and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.