House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called for public congressional hearings on the Trump administration’s decision to authorize an airstrike that killed top Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“I think there should be open hearings on this subject,” Schiff, who was in charge of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump late last year, told The Washington Post in an interview published Jan. 6. “The president has put us on a path where we may be at war with Iran. That requires the Congress to fully engage.”
Schiff said in an interview with CNN that the airstrike may “increase the risk to Americans around the world,” before stipulating that he hasn’t “seen the intelligence that taking out Soleimani was going to either stop the plotting that is going on or decrease other risks to the United States.”
Soleimani’s death was prompted by a series of events in Iraq, which included the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo linked the activity to Iran and Soleimani.
By killing Soleimani, the United States disrupted an “imminent attack” that would have endangered American lives, Pompeo said. On Jan. 5, he said that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley “got it right when he said we were culpably negligent had we not gone after Soleimani when we had the opportunity.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also mounted a defense of the airstrike, saying Trump is “the commander in chief, and he did what a responsible, strong—not weak—commander in chief does when faced with the opportunity to take out one of the—if not the—world’s most wanted terrorist.”
The White House sent a notification to Congress on Jan. 4 regarding the strike, as required under the 1973 War Powers Act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was briefed on the airstrike in its aftermath, said the classified White House notification raised more questions.
“This classified War Powers Act notification delivered to Congress raises more questions than it answers. This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner, and justification of the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran,” Pelosi wrote on Jan. 4. “The highly unusual decision to classify this document in its entirety compounds our many concerns, and suggests that the Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security.”
The public wrangling over whether Trump should have told Congress has prompted a debate about the White House’s legal requirements. But former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, an Obama appointee, said Trump was right.
“If you believe everything our government is saying about General Soleimani, he was a lawful military objective and the president, under his Constitutional authority as commander in chief, had ample domestic legal authority to take him out without additional congressional authorization,” Johnson told MSNBC on Jan. 5.
Soleimani “was a lawful military objective” because he was either “a terrorist or a general in a military force that was engaged in armed attacks against our people,” Johnson said.