- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2020

John F. Kelly, a former chief of staff for President Trump, acknowledged issues with the administration’s explanation for recently eliminating Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani.

Mr. Kelly, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general who left the White House in early 2019, discussed the drone strike that killed Soleimani during an interview published Monday.

Speaking to the Fresno Bee, Mr. Kelly indicated he was inclined to believe the Trump administration that Soleimani had been planning an “imminent” attack against U.S. interests.

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He acknowledged that the president’s team has struggled to show that any attack staged by Soleimani was on the verge of happening, however.

“I’m not making any criticism here, but I know they’re having a tough time defining ‘imminent,’” said Mr. Kelly, The Bee reported.

“Frankly, if Mark Milley says so, I’ll take his word for it,” Mr. Kelly added, referring to the Army general currently serving as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Soleimani, a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the leader of its elite Quds Force, was killed after leaving Baghdad’s international airport in Iraq on Jan. 3.

Mr. Trump and several current members of his administration — including Gen. Milley, among others — subsequently said the strike was launched in response to an “imminent” threat.

Critics on Capitol Hill have since questioned whether Soleimani was planning an imminent attack, and Mr. Trump said recently that it “doesn’t really matter” if he was.

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

Interviewed ahead of a public appearance Wednesday in Fresno, Mr. Kelly suggested that adversaries other than Iran currently pose the greatest threat to American interests.

“The only true existential threat to the U.S. are nuclear weapons that can be delivered from, say Russia,” Mr. Kelly told The Bee. “They have a considerable arsenal of weapons that can range the U.S. … in under 25 minutes.”

“And for Iran, I can only say I hope they don’t get nuclear weapons,” Mr. Kelly added.

Mr. Kelly, 69, led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during the first six months of Mr. Trump’s administration prior to becoming the president’s second chief of staff. He was succeeded in the latter role by Mick Mulvaney, who has served as Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff since January 2019.

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