Iran attacks bases housing US troops

By Meg Wagner, Ivana Kottasová, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT) January 9, 2020
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6:39 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

US defense secretary pushes back on lawmakers slamming intel briefing on Soleimani

From CNN's Ryan Browne

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pushed back at lawmakers who slammed the Trump administration intelligence briefing today saying, “most Members of Congress do not have access to the intelligence that I think was the most compelling.”  

Esper said the intelligence is "restricted to the Gang of Eight,” a group of top congressional leaders who are generally privy to sensitive information that the rest of Congress is not always briefed on.

Some more context: On Tuesday, Esper said that the “exquisite intelligence” on the threat posed by Qasem Soleimani that drove the US military to target him in a drone strike will only be shared with the Gang of Eight, saying “most Members (of Congress) will not have access to that.”

6:34 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Two GOP senators announce support for Iran War Powers resolution

From CNN's Manu Raju, Phil Mattingly and Jeremy Herb

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky announced today that they would support a War Powers resolution sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, which would limit President Trump's ability to use military force in Iran.

"I think the President's instincts on trying to show restraint and keep us out of war are good. I frankly think he will not escalate things. However, the debate is bigger than just this debate. The debate is a 70-year-old debate that began in 1950 with Korea and Truman. This is a debate, and many have written that Congress has abdicated their duty. Today ... Sen. Lee and I stepping up and saying we are not abdicating our duty. Our duty under the Constitution is for us to debate when we go to war, and we, for one, are not going to abdicate that duty," Paul told reporters.

The senators also slammed Wednesday's classified briefing on the strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. Lee said after the briefing that it was the "worst briefing I've had on a military issue" during his nine years in the Senate.

What we know about Kaine's resolution: Kaine told CNN on Wednesday that he hopes to see action on it in the Senate as soon as next week, although the timeline may be complicated by the impending impeachment trial.

As a privileged resolution, Kaine will be able to force a vote on the bill without support from Republican leaders.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill invoke the War Powers Act, otherwise known as the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

The War Powers Resolution stipulates parameters of presidential and congressional war powers, including imposing procedural requirements to ensure that presidents keep Congress apprised of military decisions as well as provisions that provide Congress with a mechanism to suspend military operations initiated by the President in certain circumstances.

6:11 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Top US general expects Shia militias backed by Iran to continue attacks against US forces

From CNN's Ryan Browne, Barbara Starr and Mike Conte

Speaking to reporters today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he “fully expect[s]” militia groups with ties to Iran “to conduct terrorist operations against US forces and coalition forces in Iraq and perhaps even elsewhere.” 

Asked if Iran is done, he replied, “I think it’s too early to tell.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper also said that these proxy groups may conduct attacks “either directed or non-directed by Iran,” noting that among the challenges the US faces will be to “sort through that, understand, who’s doing it, who’s motivating it.” 

"I think we just got to again assess the situation. Let’s see what they’re saying publicly, see what they’re saying privately, look at our intelligence, all those things. We're not going to do anything imprudent. I think we need to take this — these are serious times and we take things one step at a time," Esper said.

Milley further noted how the killing of Qasem Soleimani has disrupted Iran’s “command and control” of these groups.

What we know: Three US officials tell CNN the US' current assessment is that a high profile attack from the regime is unlikely but their proxies in the region are still a problem.

5:46 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Democratic senator calls Iran briefing "unacceptably vague"

From CNN’s Brian Fung

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he found today's classified briefing by top Trump administration officials on the killing of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani “deeply unsatisfying.”  

In an interview with CNN, Blumenthal said he left the meeting “angry,” and that it raised more questions than it answered.  

“They spent an hour and a quarter basically ducking and dodging some of the most critical issues, including legal obligations to come to Congress in the event of possible acts of war,” Blumenthal said. 

“On critical issues including the imminence of a threat from Soleimani, they were really unacceptably vague and inadequate,” he added. 

Blumenthal said he hoped the Senate will soon deal with the War Powers Act resolution filed by Democratic Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to block a war with Iran.

7:13 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Top general says he has no "personal knowledge" of Iraq giving US a heads up on Iranian attack

From CNN's Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr

Alex Wong/Getty Images/FILE
Alex Wong/Getty Images/FILE

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he had no “personal knowledge” of Iraq giving the US a heads up on the Iranian missile attack.  

Asked if the Iraqis were given a heads up and whether they passed it along to the US in advance of the attack, Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that they had no knowledge of that, adding they had attempted to warn the Iraqis when they detected the attack.

What happened earlier today: CNN reported that an Arab diplomatic source told CNN Iraq gave advance warning to the US “which bases would be hit” after Iranian officials passed on the information. The Iraqi prime minister said Wednesday that the Americans called to warn Iraq just as the missiles were hitting the bases.

5:25 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Top US general says Iran intended to kill US troops

From CNN's  Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The top US general made clear tonight that Iran meant to kill US troops in the ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq. 

“I believe based on what I saw and what I know that they were intended to cause structural damage destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters today.

Milley is delivering a differing message that what some administration officials have floated to CNN, which is that Iran could have directed their missiles to hit areas that are populated by Americans, but intentionally did not.

Administration officials suggested Iran may have chosen to send a message rather than take significant enough action to provoke a substantial US military response, a possible signal the administration was looking for rationale to calm the tensions.

“Why were there no casualties? In my estimation from what I know now, I think it has more to do with the defensive techniques that our forces used as opposed to intent," Milley added.

Casualties were avoided due to “early warning," various tactics and “defensive procedures” put in place," Milley said.

“We took sufficient defensive measures that there were no casualties to US personnel, coalition personnel, contractors or Iraqis,” he added. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the intent “remains to be determined."

5:04 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

GOP senator on Iran briefing: "A third grader could’ve figured this out. You don’t need the CIA."

From CNN's Phil Mattingly 

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Lindsey Graham was critical of Democratic questions during the classified briefing today on the airstrike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Graham said that while no specific targets were mentioned by the briefers, the intelligence and decision making were clear enough for him.

“I would only imagine what people would say if we didn’t hit him given what we knew," Graham said.

Asked about concerns from Democrats on the lack of specifics about the imminent attacks, Graham said he "couldn’t disagree more."

“They don’t want specifics. I was really disappointed in their behavior in there because it was clear to me that this guy was up to no good in the moment," Graham said. "They keep asking questions about imminent. The guy is a designated terrorist. He’s been killing Americans for decades. He’s on the ground in Iraq, our embassy is being attacked, we’ve got real time intelligence of forthcoming attacks without specific places. He’s supposed to be going back to Tehran to talk about it. That’s the dilemma. Do you hit him or don’t hit him? It made sense to me given the intel that we had to hit him."

Graham added: “I find this whole idea that somehow the national security team did not have a good basis to hit this guy ridiculous. ... I think people have lost their minds about who we’re dealing with. A third grader could’ve figured this out. You don’t need the CIA. You’ve got an embassy being ransacked. You’ve got a contractor killed.”

6:21 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Republican senator says Iran briefing was worst he's had "in my nine years" in the Senate

From CNN's Manu Raju

Republican Sen. Mike Lee, speaking to reporters today, called today’s briefing the “worst briefing I’ve had on a military issue in my nine years” in the Senate.

‪The Utah lawmaker called the way this played out as “un-American” and “completely unacceptable” given that the administration suggested that Congress shouldn’t have a role in debating Iran military action. He said the administration would not commit to new Authorization for Use of Military Force or a cite a reason for coming to Congress before taking military action.

Asked if President Trump should have authorized the attack against Qasem Soleimani, Lee said he’s “agnostic” on that because the briefers didn’t give specific details ‬on the attacks planned by Soleimani.

Watch moment here:

4:39 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Senate briefing on airstrike got heated following questions from Democrats

From CNN's Phil Mattingly, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The classified Senate briefing on the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani became tense and heated amid repeated questions from Democratic senators about the intelligence regarding how imminent a future attack would be, according to four senators who were in the room.

Administration representatives ended up leaving before all questions were asked and departed after the allotted time of 90 minutes, two senators said.

Democrats pressed for specifics of the targets and timeline, and while senators said the timeline was described as within “days,” the information provided in today’s briefing did not explicitly back that up, according to Democrats.

At one point, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar pressed on the imminence of the attack, and several senators said they came away with the sense her specific question remained unanswered. Administration officials were pressed about whether the attacks would be carried out especially since Iran's supreme leader apparently had not signed off on what Soleimani was plotting, sources said.

Republicans expressed frustration over the Democratic posture during the briefing, with GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham saying they were “out of their minds” for how they approached the strikes.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, spoke to reporters following the briefing. Here's what he said about it:

"There were so many important questions that they did not answer. We did not see a plan, a satisfying plan for the future. We had 97 senators there, 15 got to ask questions. As the questions began to get tough, they walked out. I've asked for a commitment that they all come back within a week. We have not yet gotten that commitment."