“The President and Secretary have both been consistent that we’ve reached no definitive cause for the explosion and that information is still coming, and we’re going to continue to assess it,” Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the top Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters.
On Tuesday, the day of the explosion, Trump characterized the explosion in the port in Beirut as a “terrible attack,” saying that some generals thought it could have been caused by a bomb of some kind.
The following day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that they were still getting information and that “most believe it was an accident,” adding,” I have nothing further to report on that.”
That difference between Trump and Esper was picked up in many reports, saying that Esper had contradicted the president.
Lebanese officials have stated that the explosion—which has killed over 150 people according to the latest figures and heard over 100 miles away in Cyprus—was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse. The cause of the fire that initiated the blast is currently being investigated.
“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” Lebanon President Michel Aoun said.
The investigation will try to establish three things. “First, how the explosive material entered and was stored … second, whether the explosion was a result of negligence or an accident … and third, the possibility that there was external interference.”
Responding to a question on whether generals had given Trump inaccurate information, Hoffman said that the situation was “fast-evolving” and that different information had come to light on the two days.
“The investigation into the explosion is ongoing, ” he said. “We’re going to defer to and give the Lebanese government space to complete their investigation and reach their conclusions. I’m not going to offer any conclusions from the U.S. government or from the intel community today. That’s not my role, so we’re going to work with them.”
In his remarks to reporters on the day of the attack, Trump said, “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was not a … some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event.”
“They would know better than I would,” he added. “But they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.”