Sen. Kaine: Many Members of Congress Want to 'Hide Under Their Desk' on War Matters

By Susan Jones | January 13, 2020 | 6:42am EST
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)

( - Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he's not convinced that Iran posed an imminent threat to one or more U.S. embassies, as President Donald Trump has claimed.

Kaine spoke to Margaret Brennan, the host of CBS's "Face the Nation," on Sunday:

We're skeptical of the evidence that this president has put on the table about imminent threat, and that's why we're challenging the briefers and that's why we're challenging the president. But at the end of the day, I think this is less about the president than it is about Congress.

Congresses of both parties, for a very long time, have hidden under their desks rather than have votes about war. Votes about war are tough. I -- I've cast two of them in the foreign relations committee, fundamentally different than any vote you'll ever cast.

And so many members of Congress, what they want to do is hide under their desk, let the president just do whatever the president wants, and then they think they can escape accountability for the consequences of war.

It's time to go back to what the framers envisioned. We shouldn't send our best and brighter into harm's way if Congress doesn't have the guts to have a debate and have a vote.

Kaine, for years, has pushed for a new authorization for the use of military force to replace the ones Congress passed in 2001 and 2002 that allowed the U.S. to attack those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Well, Margaret, as you know, I have been working on this since I came to the Senate...When I came to the Senate in 2013, I criticized President Obama for taking us into military action in Libya without congressional authorization, for (taking) on ISIS in Iraq and Syria without congressional authorization.

I will say this, when I started on this crusade of six, seven years ago, very few people were interested in it. But in the last year, the good news is, finally members of both parties and in both houses have started to step up and take the congressional responsibility seriously

I do think we have to rewrite and redo the 2001 authorization that authorizes us to wage war against non-state terrorist groups that are connected to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack.

Kaine noted that he and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah "have a resolution that would basically say no war against Iran unless Congress specifically votes to authorize it. But we do state, as you point out, the president can defend the nation against an imminent threat. And that is existing law. That's -- the constitutional framers clearly understood that."

President Trump, in a recent interview with Fox News's Laura Ingraham, said that "probably" the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was targeted by Soleimani. Trump also told her, "I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies" targeted by Soleimani, "but Baghdad certainly would have been the lead. But I think it would have been four embassies. Could have been military bases, could have been a lot of other things, too. But it was imminent," Trump said.

Kaine and other lawmakers say they were not told about the imminent threat to an embassy or embassies in their intelligence briefing last week:

"I -- I was at the classified briefing because I'm both an Armed Services and Foreign Relations member. That was not told to us in the classified briefing. Nor was there a suggestion that multiple embassies were threatened. And I think that was one of the reasons that the senators in the briefing were so unhappy.

"We felt that the evidence was far short of imminent threat. We were mad that they were so dismissive of the notion that Congress would have anything to do with questions of war and peace," Kaine said.

"And we also thought that the administration was very cavalier about the Iraqi reaction, the Iraqi resolution of parliament that the U.S. should leave. They were sort of like, oh, that's just the way the Iraqis talk. This is a very serious concern and the administration is downplaying it in a way that I think was very unrealistic."

Kaine said the briefers told lawmakers "there was exquisite and detailed intelligence" about the Iranian threat:

"That means it was specific. But for it to be justified -- the president taking essentially an act of war on Iraqi soil to wipe out an Iranian military leader -- it had to not just be a plan, but an imminent threat. And that usually means it's more than a plan. There's been some move toward making a decision to execute on the plan. And we heard nothing about that in the briefing or in any of the conversations I've had with administration leaders."

Even Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday he didn't see evidence of a specific threat against four U.S. embassies.

Also appearing on "Face the Nation," Esper was asked to "clarify" the specific threat:

"Well, what the president said was he believed that there probably and could have been attacks against additional embassies. I shared that view," Esper said. "I know other members of the national security team shared that view. That's why I deployed thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites throughout the region."

"Probably and could have been," Brennan echoed. "That sounds more like an assessment than a specific, tangible threat with a -- a decisive piece of intelligence," she told Esper.

"Well, the president didn't say there was a tangible -- he didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said is he probably -- he believed, could have been," Esper responded.

"Are you saying there wasn't one?"  Brennan asked Esper.

"I didn't see one with regard to four embassies," Esper responded. "What I'm saying is, I share the president's view that probably -- my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country."

According to Esper, the Trump administration "had information that there was going to be an attack within a matter of days that would be broad in scale, in other words, more than one country, and that it would be bigger than previous attacks, likely going to take us into open hostilities with Iran...that was orchestrated by Qassem -- Qassem Soleimani. He was the one who has led the attacks against America for 20 years now, so we had every expectation to believe that this would happen.

"In fact, a very, very senior person from the intelligence community said the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action. That was compelling for me."

Esper said the threat from Iran has "been disrupted."

"I think what we have to find out now is continue to work to make sure that that threat is completely eliminated."


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