Sen. Mike Lee deserves props for his bold stand against the Trump administration’s inadequate Iran briefing but not for weaselly putting all the blame on cabinet officials and deliberately absolving Trump.
On The Story last night, host Martha MacCallum prefaced her interview with Lee by highlighting his Team Trump bonafides: “He says that he fully supports President Trump and commends his restraint on Iran.” She added, “But when it comes to the classified briefing that lawmakers received from military leaders today, he sounded off in a fit of outrage.”
We saw a clip of Lee blasting the briefers for ending prematurely and “telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public." He called that "absolutely insane" and "unacceptable.”
Lee also shredded the briefers' excuse for refusing to discuss certain information by calling it too sensitive. “We’re in a SCIF, we’re in a secure, underground bunker and they still refuse to tell us. I find that really upsetting," he said.
MacCallum was a friendly host. She made a point of noting Lee’s non-partisanship before asking, “Can you tell us what really ticked you off?”
Lee did not hold back.
LEE: Yeah, sure. First of all, as to the substance of the strike, itself, on Friday, with General Soleimani – he was a bad guy. I have yet to take a position on that. I was hoping to be able to reach a conclusion as to the logical, legal, constitutional and moral justification today.
I didn’t feel like I got my questions answered. I’m willing to assume for purposes of this discussion with you right now, Martha, that that may have been legally justifiable. What I’m concerned about is the flippant attitude that they reflected both with regard to the underlying facts on Friday’s attack and especially as they relate moving forward to any subsequent attack that we may undertake on Iran.
There was a dismissive attitude, one that was displayed in such a way that they resulted in them saying, “We can’t identify what circumstances in which we would need to come back to Congress to get approval or authorization.” That’s antithetical to the Constitution and it’s not something that we can countenance.
We’ve been drifting for decades away from the Constitutional separation of powers in which Congress, only, wields the power to declare war.
The fact that the briefers, later identified as the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the acting director of national intelligence and the head of the CIA, failed to answer and tried to dismiss questions about the supposed imminent threat strongly suggests there was none. Ditto for a plan going forward. But Lee suggested it was everyone else’s fault but Trump’s. Yet even if that were so, what does it say about Trump that all his top lieutenants behave so unacceptably?
LEE: Now, look, I support President Trump. I support the way that he is wielding his power as commander in chief. I think he’s actually been the most respectful of all presidents during my lifetime of the commander-in-chief power.
I do think that the people who briefed the United States Senate today did him a grave disservice.
LEE: We repeatedly asked them, under what circumstances would you need to come back to us, to get authority from Congress, before taking an action against Iran. For example, what if you decided that you wanted to take out the supreme leader? Would you, in that circumstance, need to come back to Congress for a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of military force. Astoundingly, they refused to answer that question. I find that simply unacceptable.
LEE: They kept telling us that there would have been an imminent attack, had they not taken this strike on Friday – which again, for purposes of this conversation, I’m willing to assume may well have been lawful. But then when we would ask them what was the nature of that attack, when and where would it have occurred, by whom would it have been carried out, they refused to answer the question. And they deferred it the same way they would if we weren’t in a classified environment, saying, well, we can’t talk about that. Well, we were in an underground bunker designed for that very purpose and they should have told us.
MacCallum added supportively, “I think most people would understand your frustration.” But she didn’t note Trump's responsibility, either.
However, I’ll take anyone defending the Constitution from the Trump administration over someone like Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was seen in a clip at the end, accusing administration critics of “playing a game” and “empowering the enemy.”
You can watch Lee’s comments below, from the January 8, 2020 The Story with Martha MacCallum.