January 7, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Did Trump Stand to Gain by Ordering Soleimani’s Death? He Thought So
Again, it's backfiring.
IT’S BECOMING CLEARER by the hour. There was no legitimate reason for Donald Trump to order the military assassination of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.
The allegation that Soleimani was planning an offensive against Americans is turning out to be malarkey. That he deserved death isn’t reason enough. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama chose not to target him. They feared what might happen.
With Soleimani dead, ISIS is set for a comeback. Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad will regain more strength. Iran says it will restart nuclear weapons development. Iraqi politicians are pushing for US troops to exit, leaving Kurdish allies to face threats of genocide.
Was one man worth all this? No.
Trump gave Democrats a reason to tell a new story—about a president so desperate to distract us from his impeachment trial he ordered a man killed.
It’s becoming clearer by the hour. Trump had his own reasons for assassinating Iran’s second most important political figure. Those reasons had little if anything to do with satisfying his oath to defend and protect the US against all enemies. Those reasons appear to be similar to the reasons he involved Ukraine’s president in an international conspiracy to defraud the American people. He stood to gain from both personally.
To be sure, Mike Pompeo may have rolled him. The Post reported over the weekend that the secretary of state had long advocated for targeting the Iranian general. But an impeached president is a desperate president. Headlines are dominated by Trump’s disgrace and what comes next for him in a Senate trial. It figures Pompeo’s interests may have aligned perfectly with the president’s interest in changing the subject.
But like all things Trump, it’s backfiring.
He forgot, or didn’t bother trying to remember, that a president can’t start a war on his own. He has to ask the Congress for permission, or at least inform members what’s going to happen, and why. The closest Trump came to doing that was telling US Senator Lindsey Graham as they were golfing at Mar-A-Lago. Assassinating a top-ranking figure of a sovereign country is a BFD. Not telling the Congress about it is an even bigger BFD. It’s the kind of BFD that might get a president impeached. Again.
Remember: there was more to the Ukraine conspiracy than getting a foreign government to interfere with the people’s right to fully consent to Trump’s governance. He held up military aid to Ukraine under the false pretense of seeing corruption eradicated. But it doesn’t matter what his reasons were. The Congress has the power of the purse. The Congress decides what money is spent, and why. That he held up the money at all violates the Constitution as well as federal statutory law.
We know this is true thanks to the Center for Public Integrity and Just Security. Both outlets sued to gain access to administration emails showing without a doubt the president knew withholding military aid to Ukraine was illegal but ordered it withheld anyway. Importantly, this truth came to light after the House impeached him. In other words, the US Senate has, or should have, more than articles of impeachment to consider. There is clear evidence of the president knowingly breaking federal law.
It remains to be seen if the Senate moves ahead with a fair impeachment trial. But whether it does is unlikely to stop the House from returning to its interrogative posture. Trump just gave the House Democrats, especially Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, another reason to hold public hearings. He gave them a reason to tell another story before the 2020 election—about a president so desperate to distract us from his impeachment trial he ordered a man killed, possibly starting a war.
Assassinating a top-ranking figure of a sovereign country is a BFD. Not telling the US Congress about it is an even bigger BFD. It’s the kind of BFD that might get a president impeached. Again.
Even if the Senate trial was a charade, it could take place as the House subpoenas testimony explaining and why the president choose to assassinate Qassem Soleimani. Such a context would almost certainly ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans up for reelection this year. Side-by-side televised proceedings might undermine the Republican defense and underscore the rationale for removing Trump from office.
But even if the Senate acquits, the president faces another peril of his own making. As I said, evidence of lawbreaking with respect to the 1974 Impoundment Control Act came to the light after the House impeached him. Moreover, Schiff said today he would not rule out subpoenaing John Bolton, the former head of the White House Security Counsel. Schiff also told my friend Greg Sargent his panel will be fully engaged in uncovering the facts behind Qassem Soleimani’s death. Put all these together and you have the making of—yes, it’s hard to believe—yet another impeachment inquiry.
Is that likely? I wouldn’t say that. But this president and these Republicans depend for their success on the Democrats “playing by the rules.” That rule in this case is you never impeach a president twice. Well, Trump is no ordinary president, and there is no double jeopardy when it comes to impeachment. Anyway, it seems a round two would merely be an extension of round one. Trump abused his power for political gain once. He’s abusing it a second time. And he’ll keep abusing it until his last day in office.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.