Trump privately details Soleimani air strike to donors at Mar-a-Lago fundraiser
US President Donald Trump gave a minute-by-minute account of the US drone strikes that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in remarks to a Republican fund-raising dinner on Friday night, according to audio obtained by CNN and the Washington Post.
Trump, his tone subdued and conversational, explained his motivation for attacking Soleimani and recounted listening from the White House Situation Room to an anonymous military official count down to the strike, according to the Post.
CNN said that in the audio, Trump did not repeat that Soleimani was an imminent threat. Trump said Soleimani was "saying bad things about our country" before the strike, which led to his decision to authorise the assassination.
The president spoke in a ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, at a Republican event that raised $10m for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign and for the Republican National Committee, according to AFP.
Reporters were not allowed in for the event. CNN and the Post said they had obtained audio recordings of Trump's remarks. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 3 January killing of Soleimani at Baghdad airport prompted Iran to retaliate with missile strikes against US forces in Iraq days later and almost triggered a broad war between the two countries.
"They're together sir," Trump said a military official told him. "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 armoured vehicle. Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir. Thirty seconds. Ten, 9, 8 ...' "
"Then all of a sudden, boom," he said. "'They're gone, sir. Cutting off.'"
"I said, where is this guy?" Trump continued. "That was the last I heard from him."
It was the most detailed account that Trump has given of the drone strike, which has drawn criticism from some US legislators because neither the president nor his advisers have provided public information to back up their statements that Soleimani presented an "imminent" threat to Americans in the region.
The president said nothing about an “imminent attack” on US interests or threats to four US embassies as he previously has to justify the unilateral military strike that escalated tensions in the region and opened debate on presidential war powers, the Post said.
Instead, he spoke broadly about Soleimani as “the father of the road-side bomb” responsible for “every young, beautiful man or woman who see walking around with no legs, no arms.” Trump said he heard about two weeks earlier that the United States had Soleimani under surveillance and he was “talking about bad stuff.”
Unconcerned about budget
In a separate audio clip, Trump is heard boasting about increasing the defence budget by $2.5 trillion. To those who criticised his spending and the growing national debt, Trump said, “Who the hell cares about the budget? We’re going to have a country,” the Post reported.
For most of Barack Obama’s time in office, Republicans seemed to care very much about the budget, making fears about the national debt and deficit their top talking points. They’ve backed off those concerns under Trump.
The audio files obtained by the Post came in four short segments, and each cuts off mid-sentence or midpoint.
In the 40-second clip about the military budget, Trump said, “It’s been an incredible period of time and that’s despite the witch hunt. . .” before the audio cuts out.