President Donald Trump offered chilling details to GOP donors about the airstrike assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 2 — and a new reason for the hit: He was saying “bad things” about America.
“How much of this shit do we have to listen to?” Trump asked his audience of well-heeled contributors Friday night at Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, according to audio recordings of his comments obtained by CNN and The Washington Post.
“He was saying bad things about our country, like ‘we’re going to attack, we’re going to kill your people,’” Trump said, according to the Post.
The president didn’t mention any “imminent attack” planned by the military commander.
Trump had previously justified the assassination by saying that Soleimani was “probably” planning to attack four American embassies. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview earlier this month that he “didn’t see” any specific evidence of that — though he supported the hit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that officials believed Soleimani was planning “imminent attacks” but added, “We don’t know when, we don’t know where.”
At the Friday night gathering, which was attended by some 100 donors expected to raise $10 million for Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican Party, the president said Soleimani had to be killed because he was a “noted terrorist” who was “down on our list.”
He also called Soleimani the “father of the road side bomb” who was responsible for “every young, beautiful man or woman who see walking around with no legs, no arms.”
Trump also described a military officer’s narration of the attack to him.
“‘They’re in the car, they’re in an armored vehicle,’” Trump said, supposedly quoting the officer. “‘Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir ... 30 seconds ... 10, nine, eight ...’ Then, all of a sudden, boom! ‘They’re gone, sir.’ I said, ‘Where is this guy?’ [laughter] That was the last I heard from him.”
Trump boasted that the hit “shook up the world. “He was supposed to be invincible,” he added, referring to Soleimani.
Trump also repeated his claim that ISIS leader Abu Bakr-Baghdadi died “screaming” after an American raid on this compound — a version no one else seems able to confirm. “He was screaming, going crazy,” the president said.
Since the Soleimani hit, the Trump administration has been criticized for a lack of transparency and for failing to provide adequate substantiation of Trump’s claim that Soleimani posed an imminent threat.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called a briefing given to lawmakers and the exhortation not to challenge the assassination “insulting and demeaning.”
In other comments to donors, Trump bragged about boosting the defense budget by $2.5 trillion (even though the Pentagon budget is a fraction of that, at $738 billion).
He asked “who the hell cares” about the growing deficit, adding, “We’ll have a country.” (The deficit was nearly $1 trillion in 2019, even though Trump promised during his campaign to eliminate the national debt.)
He also mocked environmental concerns over his border wall, and singled out worries about disrupting turtle and rattlesnake nesting sites.
“As many as we kill, they’ll be here long after us,” he said, according to the Post. “The rattlesnake, you can kill every son-of-a-bitchin’ rattlesnake.”