Democrats say some GOP members 'twist' Iran intel as Trump raises doubts about threat

Iranian demonstrators burn a makeshift US flag during a rally in the capital Tehran, on May 10 2019. - Iranian foreign minister blamed the EU for the decline of Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers and insisted the bloc "should uphold" its obligations under the pact in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief.
US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in May of last year and reinstated unilateral economic sanctions. (Photo by STR / AFP)        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington (CNN)As the Trump administration prepares to brief lawmakers Tuesday on the threat posed by Iran, Democrats are charging that Republicans are misrepresenting intelligence to make the danger from Tehran seem more dire than it actually is.

Even President Donald Trump is splitting from his most senior officials' message about an imminent threat from Iran, a drumbeat that has deepened concern that the administration is heightening tensions with Tehran and the chances of a clash.
"We have no indication that anything's happened or will happen, but if it does, it will be met obviously with great force," Trump said at the White House Monday evening. "I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything. If they do something it will be met with great force, but we have no indication that they will."
Trump's assessment differed sharply from the message conveyed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, both "hawks" intent on changing the regime's behavior, if not its leadership. Pompeo warned of escalating and "imminent" attacks by Iran in early May, Bolton said the US would respond with "unrelenting force."

    'Twist the intel'

    Trump has made clear he's interested in talking to Iran and has said he hopes there won't be a conflict, but lawmakers have expressed concern that they haven't been briefed on the nature of the threat and some -- invoking the faulty intelligence that led to the US invasion of Iraq -- are questioning the way the Iranian threat is being characterized.
    That battle is set to play out on Tuesday as Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford arrive on Capitol Hill to brief House members at 1:30 p.m., ET, and conduct an all-senators briefing at 2:45 p.m., ET, according to a Democratic aide.
    Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, took aim at his Republican colleagues Monday after some received an early briefing from the administration.
    "I'm listening to Republicans twist the Iran intel to make it sound like Iran is taking unprovoked, offensive measures against the US and our allies," Murphy tweeted Monday.
    Murphy warned of the danger that both sides could misunderstand the other with potentially deadly results.
    "No one should defend the actions Iran has taken - they've been out of control for years - but dumb wars start when each party mistakenly believes that the other party's defensive or reactive actions are actually offensive and proactive," Murphy tweeted.
    Senate and House lawmakers have called on the administration to brief them on the extent of the threat after tensions between Washington and Iran sharply escalated in recent weeks. The US has sent a Navy carrier strike group and bomber task force into the Persian Gulf as officials have warned of Iranian plans to attack US personnel.

    'What the hell is going on'

    The administration had only selectively informed lawmakers about their intelligence, speaking to almost no Democrats and leaving allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, incensed at initially being shut out.
    "I think they should tell us what the hell is going on," Graham told CNN last week.
    On Monday, Graham tweeted that he'd "just received a briefing from National Security Advisor Bolton about escalating tensions with Iran. It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq."
    That prompted Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, to tweet that "again Lindsey and I get the same intel. That is not what is being said. This is total information bias to draw the conclusion he wants for himself and the media."
    And a Democratic aide told CNN that Murphy's tweet about the intelligence was as much a shot at Graham as it was at Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texan and most senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
      While Graham hadn't been briefed about the escalating tensions with Iran last week, administration officials had informed Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and freshman Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who chairs a foreign relations subcommittee.
      Many senior Democrats involved in foreign relations still haven't been briefed on the administration's intelligence, which US officials, including Bolton, said warranted sending the strike group and bomber into the Gulf.