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In this file photo taken on Jan. 8, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran, in the Grand Foyer of the White House, in Washington, D.C.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Monday defended his decision to kill Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, contending Soleimani posed an impending threat to the United States but also saying the threat “doesn’t really matter” given the military leader’s history.

“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘imminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”

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On Monday, Attorney-General William Barr said Trump clearly had the authority to kill Soleimani, adding that the White House consulted with his department before the strike.

Barr told reporters that Soleimani was a “legitimate military target” and the strike was a “legitimate act of self-defense.”

“The Department of Justice was consulted and frankly I don’t think it was a close call,” Barr said. “I think the president clearly had the authority to act as he did under numerous different bases. We had a situation where the Iranians had already embarked on a series of escalating violent action taken against our allies, taken against the American people, our troops, with the avowed purpose of driving us out of the Middle East.”

Democrats, who are trying to pass legislation to rein in Trump’s ability to wage war on Iran without lawmakers’ approval, sharply disagreed.

“You cannot take military action against another nation without congressional consent unless to defend against an imminent attack,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said on Twitter.

“It’s clear now this was an illegal action. That also has made America less safe,” he said, noting an NBC News report that Trump had authorized the killing of Soleimani seven months ago.

Since confirming Soleimani was killed by a U.S. air strike in Baghdad, administration officials have claimed they acted because of an imminent risk of attacks on American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

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Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress have questioned the justification of the attacks and said they have not been given adequate, detailed briefings.

Some have also argued that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the authority to declare war, and called for the Senate and House of Representatives to act to take that authority back from the White House.

Reflecting deep divisions in Washington over Trump’s Iran policy, the House voted nearly along party lines last week to pass a resolution that would force the president to seek congressional approval for further military action against Iran.

Three of Trump’s fellow Republicans backed the resolution and eight Democrats – who control a majority in the House – voted against it.

A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate but there has been no word on timing of a vote, giving uncertainty about Trump’s impeachment trial.

Last week Trump posited in an interview that Iran had been poised to attack four American embassies before Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3. But on Sunday U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he did not see specific evidence that Iran was planning an attack.

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“What the president said was that there probably could be additional attacks against embassies. I shared that view,” Esper said. “The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence.”

When pressed on whether intelligence officers offered concrete evidence on that point, Esper said: “I didn’t see one with regards to four embassies.”

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U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday said he did not see a specific Iranian plot to attack American embassies in Baghdad or elsewhere before the administration decided to kill an Iranian military commander, and Democratic lawmakers criticized the administration for ordering the airstrike. Zachary Goelman reports. Reuters
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