ICYMI: Here's what you missed on Sunday's "Face the Nation", January 12, 2020

1/12: Face The Nation

In the wake of the strike on top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, the future of the regime and the impact his death has on U.S. foreign policy and military force is being questioned.  

Here's the big takeaways from Sunday's episode of "Face the Nation" with Margaret Brennan

Esper says he "didn't see" evidence of threat against embassies 

Mark Esper says he "didn't see" specific evidence showing Iran planned to strike 4 U.S. embassies
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he "didn't see" specific evidence that top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, but said he believed such attacks would have occurred.  
  • What Esper said: "The president didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was he believed," Esper said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "I didn't see one, with regard to four embassies. What I'm saying is that I shared the president's view that probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country."  
  • On Iran being a "legitimate" gov't: The Defense chief suggested that the White House would consider talks with a regime considered "corrupt" up until this point. 
  • "Well, it is still the legitimate government, if you will, of Iran. And what we've said, I've said publicly, the president certainly has said, is we will meet with them. We're willing to sit down and discuss without precondition, a new way forward, a- a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country. 
  • On Troop movement in Iraq: Esper said the U.S. in talks to have NATO "play a bigger role in the Iraq mission," adding that with the addition of NATO troops in the region, it "could" mean the drawing down of the 5,000 U.S. troops overseas.
  • "What we need to do is sit down, have discussions with Iraq. We're doing that now. I want to- we also intend to do that with our NATO partners. I had a good conversation the other day with the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. We're going to send a team over to discuss how can NATO play a bigger role in the Iraq mission."
  • Why this all matters: Esper's comments represent one of two scenarios: Either President Trump had exaggerated the threat assessment on the U.S. embassies overseas, or had left out his Defense Secretary on key intelligence matters. While Esper agreed that the embassies probably would've been targeted by Soleimani at some point, it's still not clear, either to the Pentagon chief or members of Congress, if that threat was indeed "imminent" as the president suggested. 

Schiff says Trump admin. "fudging" threat assessment during Hill briefing

Schiff accuses Trump of "fudging" intelligence on threat from Iran

  • California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff accused President Trump and top administration officials of "fudging" intelligence to justify the strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's powerful Quds Force.  
  • What Schiff said: "When you hear the president out there on Fox, he is fudging the intelligence," Schiff said Sunday on "Face the Nation," referencing an interview the president conducted with Fox News last week. "When you hear the [defense] secretary say, 'Well, that wasn't what the intelligence said, but that's my personal belief,' he is fudging. When Secretary Pompeo was on your show last week and made the claim that the intelligence analysis was that taking Soleimani out would improve our security and leaving him in would make us less safe, that is also fudging. That is not an intelligence conclusion, that's Pompeo's personal opinion."  
  • Schiff also called Secretary Esper's description of the briefing the Gang of 8 received "just plain wrong." 
  • "I don't quibble with it. I think it's just plain wrong," Schiff said. "There was no discussion in the Gang of Eight briefings that these were the four embassies that are being targeted and we have exquisite intelligence that shows these are the specific targets."  
  • On testimony from John Bolton: Schiff said the Intelligence Committee, on which the Democrat serves as the chair, is "considering" issuing a subpoena to Bolton for testimony.
  • "There's little sense in bringing Bolton into the House and not allowing the senators to see his testimony," he said. "If they're going to be the triers of fact, they should hear from the witness directly."
  • On his role as a possible impeachment manager: "Well, that'll be the speaker's decision. I don't want to get ahead of her thinking," Schiff said. "I've told the speaker that I will play whatever role that she and the caucus believe would be useful."
  • Why that matters: Schiff's comments show a growing divide between lawmakers and the White House over justification of using military force and calling into question the administration's intelligence sourcing. 

Kaine, Lee say it's on Congress to provide check on Trump's war powers

Tim Kaine says Congress "stepping up to the plate" on new AUMF

  • Senators Tim Kaine and Mike Lee blamed Congress for allowing presidents to use military force without receiving congressional authorization and shying away from taking difficult votes that deal with war.  
  • What they said: "So many members of Congress, what they want to do is hide under their desks, let the president just do whatever the president wants, and then they think they can escape accountability for the consequences of war," Democrat Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said Sunday on "Face the Nation."
  • It was a sentiment echoed by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who said "Congress is the problem
  • Kaine also called for Congress to rewrite a 2001 authorization for the use of military force to provide a more narrow authorization. "It's time to go back to what the framers envisioned," he said. "We shouldn't send our best and brightest into harm's way if Congress doesn't have the guts to have a debate and have a vote."
  • Why that matters: Debate over war-making powers has reignited following this month's targeted drone strike ordered by President Trump that killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force.  As last week's vote to reel in the president's use of military force fell along party lines, while largely symbolic, shows Congress' growing frustration with the president circumventing the separation of powers and moving ahead with his own agenda without Congress' approval. 

Kerry pushes back on Trump claims that nuclear deal funded terrorists

Kerry pushes back on Trump over Iran deal: "The president's tweet is a lie"
  • Former Secretary of State John Kerry pushed back on repeated claims by President Trump that the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal helped fund terrorist operations, decrying it as a flat out "lie."
  • What Kerry said: "Donald Trump keeps saying they got 150 billion dollars. A lie. He keeps saying that all of that money went to pay for it. It did not. His own defense intelligence agency says most of the money went for the economy of the country. So, you know, we have to stop dealing with questions on Donald Trump's lies and start dealing with the reality of what is going on."
  • On Bernie Sanders' assessment of Biden's foreign policy know-how: "I think that Bernie, regrettably, is distorting Joe's record," Kerry said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "I mean, he doesn't have what Joe Biden has, which is eight years of sitting on the National Security Council and demonstrating his judgment."  
  • Why it matters: Sanders has ramped up his attacks on Biden over the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the most recent escalation coming Saturday when Sanders' campaign claimed Biden was trying to "rewrite history." Kerry, a surrogate for the former vice president, is now staunchly defending Biden and said his 2002 vote in favor a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq was "a vote for the president to have leverage with respect to getting Saddam Hussein back to the ... inspections."
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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"