Iran's top general Soleimani killed in US strike

By Jessie Yeung, Fernando Alfonso III, Tara John, Julia Hollingsworth, Rob Picheta, Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 4:26 a.m. ET, January 4, 2020
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2:17 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump administration lawyers concluded that Soleimani strike did not need congressional sign off

From CNN's Pamela Brown and Zachary Cohen

Prior to the strike that targeted Qasem Soleimani, White House administration lawyers in consultation with national security officials put together a "strong rationale" specifically for the strike against the Iranian general that President Trump, as commander in chief, had the authority to not ask for congressional authorization over a matter of self defense, the administration official said. 

That legal rationale formed the basis for not going to Congress for authorization beforehand.

"We did not feel the need to ask for authorization over basic rights of self defense," the official said. 

A separate administration official says the strike was fully vetted by three different sets of lawyers from the White House, Department of Justice and Department of Defense. All three sets of lawyers deemed the strike was a fully appropriate action and 100% lawful.

Part of the legal reasoning was that Soleimani was deemed an enemy combatant because he was in the process of planning specific attacks in the near future on US and allied personnel and citizens, including military personnel.

"We always have a right to self defense when terrorists are plotting attacks," the official said.

The administration concluded it didn't need congressional sign off from a legal standpoint. The official also pointed out Soleimani had been deemed a foreign terrorist several different times by the US, including two executive orders that date back to 2007.

The administration has not provided any details on justification.

2:27 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump likely to address US drone attack today

U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on December 19, in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on December 19, in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump makes his first public appearance tonight at 5 p.m. ET, where officials say he will likely address the US drone attack at the Baghdad airport that killed Iran's top military commander General Qasem Soleimani.

Trump will be speaking before a group of evangelical Christians, as he participates in the launch of the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition. 

1:54 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Acting Homeland Security chief says there are "no specific, credible threats" to US

From CNN's Geneva Sands

Acting Secretary Wolf during a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on October 29, 2019.
Acting Secretary Wolf during a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on October 29, 2019. Alex Brandon/AP

There are no “specific, credible threats” against the US following the strike on Qasem Soleimani, according to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

"While there are currently no specific, credible threats against our homeland, DHS continues to monitor the situation and work with our federal, state and local partners to ensure the safety of every American," Wolf said in a statement this afternoon. "As a result of yesterday’s military action, I convened senior DHS leadership last night and earlier this morning to assess potential new threats and component actions to respond to the constantly evolving threat landscape. The entire Department remains vigilant and stands ready, as always, to defend the homeland.”
1:29 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump made decision to target Soleimani in last couple days

From CNN's Pamela Brown and Zachary Cohen

President Trump made the decision to directly target Qasem Soleimani within the last couple of days as specific intelligence came in that the Iranians had been working against US interests in the region, a senior administration official said.

"Soleimani was in the region to pull together those last strings to activate," the official said.  

A congressional source echoed that sentiment telling CNN there was credible intelligence on multiple attacks in the works by Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iraq affiliates but noted that this has been true at various points for a long time. This source did not say what specifically prompted the strike or elevated the immanency of the threat.

The planning process picked up momentum when Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Mar-a-Lago on Sunday and presented Trump with intel about multiple threats and Soleimani’s movement – details that ultimately led to the decision to move forward with the strike, two sources told CNN.  

Prior to the strike, White House lawyers in consultation with national security officials put together a "strong rationale" the strike against Soleimani would not lead to war and that the President, as commander in chief, had the authority to not ask for congressional authorization over a matter of self defense, the administration official said. 

That legal rationale formed the basis for not going to Congress for authorization beforehand.

"We did not feel the need to ask for authorization over basic rights of self defense," the official said.

The administration official said kidnapping of US citizens was an ongoing concern but that was not the overarching concern that prompted the strike based on the latest intelligence.

"It was something we were concerned they might do, but not the only thing we were concerned about," the official said.

More on Trump's decision making process: Even though Trump made the decision over the last couple of days, the official said it wasn't a snap decision to launch the strike.

The US had been tracking the Iranian threat streams for several months but didn't respond because they held back on attacks against US citizens. The official would not specify what exactly the latest intelligence showed that ultimately prompted the strike, but it became clear that Soleimani was the ringleader of a specific and imminent threat against the US. The administration felt it was important to send a strong message to Iran that it needed to understand how serious the US was viewing its actions.

  

1:24 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Schumer: "The President does not have the authority for a war with Iran"

From CNN's Alex Rogers

Schumer walks to his office after speaking on the Senate floor.
Schumer walks to his office after speaking on the Senate floor. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor that the Trump administration did not consult with top members of Congress before its strike to kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Schumer said he feared that serious questions regarding the operation’s legal basis and Iran’s potential response may not have been fully considered. 

"The President does not have the authority for a war with Iran,” the New York Democrat said.

He went on to say that Trump would need congressional approval for a large increase in troops and “and potential hostility over a longer time.” 

"This action may well have brought our nation closer to another endless war — exactly the kind of endless war the President promised he would not drag us into," Schumer said.

1:14 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

NYPD says it has received information from 14 foreign posts

From CNN's Laura Ly

NYC Media
NYC Media

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John J. Miller said the NYPD has 14 foreign posts, including in the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Qatar, and Jordan, from which they receive information following events like the death of Qasem Soleimani.

"We have received reporting from, overnight from all of those posts, that add context and intelligence value to this. That's really what those posts are, to give us additional information, sharper perspectives and decision advantage in instances such as this," Miller said. 

When asked about the timing of when the NYPD was notified about the US strike that killed Soleimani, Miller clarified that they found out after the strike had taken place. 

Miller also answered a question from CNN about whether there would be any change in security for a planned march against antisemitism in New York City on Sunday.

Miller said they were in contact with the march's organizers. Security plans for that march were already underway and that since their plans were already comprehensive, additional changes wouldn't be significant. 

"We've had discussions going on through the day about how to enhance that, but it was already fairly complicated in terms of security at the outset, so the changes wont be much," Miller said. 

1:04 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Why Trump's huge Iran gamble will have lasting impact

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

President Trump's targeted killing of Iran's ruthless military and intelligence chief adds up to his most dangerous gamble yet with other peoples' lives and his own political fate.

By killing Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, Trump committed the United States to a risky open conflict that at best could stop short of all-out war with Iran that could cause national security and economic shocks in the United States and across the globe.

The administration argues that it has taken one of the world's worst mass murderers and terrorists off the battlefield. But given Iran's easy access to soft targets, the Middle East and even Europe suddenly look a lot less safe for Americans, including US troops Trump may be even more tempted to haul home.

Two days into his re-election year, Trump — who rails against Middle Eastern entanglements — has plunged the United States into another one, with vast and unknown consequences. It challenges a presidency that is already alienating half of his country, following his impeachment and unrestrained behavior in office.

Trump may find it impossible to rally the nation behind him to weather the crisis. He has also scrambled strategic and moral expectations of the United States — ordering the killing of a senior foreign leader of a nation with whom the US is not formally at war — albeit an official regarded by Washington as a terrorist.

Keep reading.

12:40 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

US to deploy thousands of additional troops to Middle East following Soleimani killing

From CNN's Ryan Browne

Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, deploy from Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina on January 1.
Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, deploy from Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina on January 1. Capt. Robyn Haake/US Army/AFP/Getty Images

The US will deploy thousands of additional troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran mount following the airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, a US defense official told CNN.

The additional troops will come from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division. CNN has previously reported that these forces had been placed on prepare-to-deploy orders and would be sent to the region if the situation merited it. 

Following the disturbance at the US embassy in Baghdad, the US deployed 750 troops from the same unit and said that additional deployments were possible. 

The new deployment will encompass the rest of the brigade, typically about 3,000 soldiers.

12:51 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Afghanistan's president: We will not be the starting point of any attack "against a third country"

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani during a meeting with US President Donald Trump at Bagram Airfield on November 28, 2019.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani during a meeting with US President Donald Trump at Bagram Airfield on November 28, 2019. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani says the United States and Iran should “solve their disputes through dialogue" following the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

“We call on our great neighbor Iran — with which we share similarities in language, religion, history and culture — and the United States of America, which is a strategic and fundamental partner of Afghanistan, to prevent tensions and we hope that both sides can solve their disputes through dialogue,” the Afghan leader said in a statement.

Ghani went on to assure Afghans and neighboring countries that Afghanistan will not be the starting point of any attacks "against a third country or other regional countries," a point he emphasized in a call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.