President Donald Trump gave new details about the airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani at a private dinner with donors Friday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Amid a dramatic retelling of events, the commander in chief appeared to give a new justification for killing Soleimani and never mentioned that it was because he posed an imminent threat to U.S. interests or embassies as he has said previously.
According to audio of Trump’s remarks obtained by CNN and the Washington Post, Trump told donors he heard about two weeks go that the United States had Soleimani under surveillance and he was “talking about bad stuff.” Soleimani “was saying bad things about our country, like we’re going to attack, we’re going to kill your people,” Trump said. “I said, ‘listen, how much of this shit do we have to listen to, right?’” The crowd applauded Trump’s words that appeared to amount to a new justification for the Jan. 3 airstrike. Trump also described Soleimani as “the father of the road side bomb” and said he was to blame for “every young, beautiful man or woman who you see walking around with no legs, no arms.”
Trump proceeded to give a dramatic retelling of the final minutes before the strike and erroneously said that Soleimani was meeting “the head of Hezbollah.” In reality, Soleimani was met by Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Kata’ib Hezbollah. With the airstrike, the United States killed “two for the price of one,” Trump told donors. The president described how he listened to military oficials as they watched the strike unfold from “cameras that are miles in the sky.”
“ ‘Sir, they have two minutes and 11 seconds.’ No emotion. ‘Two minutes and 11 seconds to live, sir. They’re in the car, they’re in an armored vehicle. Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir. 30 seconds. 10, 9, 8 …’ Then all of a sudden, boom,” he said. That is when the person who was keeping the president updated said Soleimani and the Iraqi military leader were “gone” and hung up. “I said, ‘Where is this guy?’ ” Trump said. “That was the last I heard from him.”
Earlier in the week, Trump said in a tweet that “it doesn’t really matter” whether Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the to the United States “because of his horrible past.” He also pushed back against criticism, saying that his administration had been “totally consistent.” He added: “Here’s what’s been consistent: We killed Soleimani, the number one terrorist in the world by every account. Bad person, killed a lot of Americans, killed a lot of people. We killed him. And when the Democrats try and defend him, it’s a disgrace to our country.”