Mark Esper Likely Saw Same Iran Intelligence As Donald Trump, Says Ex-Russia Ambassador

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper attends a press conference in Seoul, South Korea.
Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool / Getty Images

The Trump administration has faced skepticism for its handling of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination, with justification for the attack continuing to shift in the aftermath. While Donald Trump claims that the top Iranian general was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that — while he agrees the attacks were being planned — the president did not present him with any evidence to support these claims.

Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia under former President Barack Obama, doesn’t appear to buy Esper’s statement, Newsweek reports. Writing on Twitter, McFaul called Esper’s comments “shocking” and suggested they cast doubt on the validity of Trump’s explanation for the Soleimani attack.

“Unless standard operating procedures for sharing intelligence in the [U.S. government] have changed radically since the time I served in the Obama administration, there is no way that the president, but not the Secretary of Defense, would have this kind of intel. No way.”

Speaking to Fox News on Friday, Trump could not elaborate on which embassies were allegedly under threat, the nature of the imminent attacks, nor the extent of the evidence collected to prove his claims.

Soleimani’s death has increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran, with the latter ultimately retaliating with ballistic missile attacks on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops. Not long after the attacks, Iran’s anti-aircraft defense forces shot down a civilian airplane, Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, outside Tehran, although the government claims it was an accident.

This is shocking. https://t.co/KOd6SN5Ems

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) January 12, 2020

An Iran proxy, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), appears to be the first to publicly vow revenge on the United States. However, the al-Shabab group operating out of Somalia reportedly killed one U.S. serviceman and two U.S. contractors in Kenya as part of a guerrilla campaign titled “Al-Quds Will Never Be Judaized.”

Protests have also erupted in Iran as a response to the downed civilian airplane. Local media footage reveals that pro-regime gunmen are opening fire on the protestors, with at least one person reportedly dying from their wounds.

According to national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the U.S. views the aftermath of the Soleimani attack as an opportunity to apply pressure to the Iranian regime, Associated Press reports.

“This was a regime that’s reeling from maximum pressure, they’re reeling from their incompetence in this situation and the people of Iran are just fed up with it,” he said.

O’Brien added that regime change is not U.S. policy and said that he hopes the Iranian people will soon be able to “elect their own government.”