WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, on Monday joined Pod Save America to discuss the Trump administration’s recent escalation with Iran and the upcoming impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.
Murphy, who had just viewed the classified War Powers notification to Congress, said: “You know, it's four days after the attack…and I have still not seen any intelligence to suggest that there was an imminent attack against U.S. forces...There's nothing in there that hasn't been publicly reported. But second, there is no intelligence inside that document about this supposedly imminent attack. So I remain open to being convinced that there was an imminent attack. But the fact that they haven't delivered that information suggests that the information might not be as strong as Secretary Pompeo was suggesting.”
Reinforcing the idea that we’re less safe as a result of the attack on Solemani, Murphy said: “Already, we have evacuated…American personnel from a U.S. ally in the Middle East, Iraq. We have shut down our counter ISIS program. NATO has suspended its training mission of Iraqi troops who are out there fighting ISIS as we speak. So what has occurred is already grave to U.S. national security interests.”
On the response from the Iranian people, Murphy said: “You saw millions of Iranians on the street who are not going to allow the Iranian regime to sit on the sidelines. There is going to be a serious and perhaps asymmetric reprisal against U.S. forces, U.S. civilians, or perhaps U.S. political leaders back in the United States.”
Murphy also discussed the ramifications of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran Deal: “It's not as if this administration didn't have fair warning that pulling out of the Iran Deal was going to ultimately escalate into a military conflict that could get Americans killed…now they are reckoning with the consequences of an escalation—by choice—that started not just a few weeks ago with rocket attacks against U.S. personnel, but a year ago when this administration…pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement.”
Murphy also blasted the administration’s decision to suspend our counter-ISIS mission: “It's just a gift to ISIS at a moment when they were starting to get a little traction again.”
Regarding the possibility of John Bolton coming to testify before the U.S. Senate, Murphy said: “It would be senatorial malpractice if McConnell, now in the face of the offer for Bolton to tell us everything he knows, tries to speed this to an end process.”
A full transcript of Murphy’s interview can be found below:
HOST, TOMMY VIETOR: “On the line is Senator Chris Murphy. He's a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the best in the business about explaining complicated foreign policy matters. Senator, thank you for doing the show.”
MURPHY: “Yeah, thanks for having me.”
VIETOR: “So, there's been a lot of justifications about the Trump administration's strike against Qasem Soleimani in the past few days. The White House said the strike was justified because there was an imminent threat to U.S. personnel. The Washington Post last night, I believe, reported that Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State has been actually pushing this Soleimani assassination idea to Trump for a long time—for several months. Have you seen this underlying intelligence that the administration claims showed an imminent threat to U.S. personality and do you buy that rationale?”
MURPHY: “You know, it's four days after the attack. We're talking on Monday afternoon, and I have still not seen any intelligence to suggest that there was an imminent attack against U.S. forces. And I can also tell you this: I just came from reading the classified War Powers notification to Congress and two things that I can say.
“One, there's no reason that it needs to be classified. There's nothing in there that hasn't been publicly reported. But second, there is no intelligence inside that document about this supposedly imminent attack. So I remain open to being convinced that there was an imminent attack. But the fact that they haven't delivered that information suggests that the information might not be as strong as Secretary Pompeo is suggesting.
“But of course, their burden is not just to show that there was an imminent attack, but to actually show why the assassination of Qasem Soleimani not only prevented that attack, but will lead to less harm being done to Americans in the long run. And of course today, we are deeply worried that this ultimately is going to lead to much more harm to American personnel than would have occurred if this attack had not happened. And we are already seeing all of the spillover effects of this massive escalation both in Iraq and through some of these early decisions—particularly the one to walk away from the nuclear program in Tehran.”
VIETOR: “Yeah. So, Secretary Mike Pompeo was asked about this increased threat to U.S. personnel, and he dismissed it as a little noise here in the interim. Do you agree with that assessment that the risk to U.S. personnel serving abroad is just a little bit of noise? I’m curious what your reaction is to the Secretary of State's comments, given that he's the person in charge of protecting thousands of Americans serving abroad, and he sounded pretty smug and dismissive.”
MURPHY: “What has happened in Iraq already is not a little noise. Right. Let's just go through what's already occurred. Already, we have evacuated… American personnel from a U.S. ally in the Middle East, Iraq. We have shut down our counter-ISIS program. NATO has suspended its training mission of Iraqi troops who are out there fighting ISIS as we speak.
“So what has occurred is already grave to U.S. national security interests. And what you saw today was not tens of thousands of Iranians on the street. You saw millions of Iranians on the street who are not going to allow the Iranian regime to sit on the sidelines. There is going to be a serious and perhaps asymmetric reprisal against U.S. forces, U.S. civilians, or perhaps U.S. political leaders back in the United States.
“There's a reason why Bush and Obama, as you know, didn't carry out an attack on Soleimani. It was because they fear that ultimately that was going to put more U.S. interests in the crosshairs. And that's not a little noise, right? That's potentially in the end, hundreds, if not thousands of American lives. And what's happened already is not a little noise. It's serious harm to our security interests—in particular, our fight against ISIS.”
VIETOR: “I'm just trying to imagine what would have happened if Susan Rice had said an increased risk to U.S. personnel serving abroad including our military was a little noise. Mike Pompeo would have called for her head.”
MURPHY: “You know, I thought the exact same thing. So I was, you know, in the Face the Nation studio yesterday listening to him say those words on a pre-tape and the first thing that crossed my mind was there's no way anyone in the Obama administration could get away with that kind of cavalier attitude about U.S. lives abroad.
“And listen, that's been the case from the very beginning. It's not as if this administration didn't have fair warning that pulling out of the Iran Deal was going to ultimately escalate into a military conflict that could get Americans killed. Right? We've been saying that for a year now. And they have brushed those criticisms aside, and now they are reckoning with the consequences of an escalation—by choice—that started not just a few weeks ago with rocket attacks against U.S. personnel, but a year ago when this administration against all of the advice from people inside the White House, not the administration, when the President against the advice he was getting from his own Secretary of State and Department of Defense pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement.”
VIETOR: “Yep, yep. I want to talk about Congress's role for a minute.
“So I saw this morning that Speaker Pelosi said the House is going to vote this week on a War Powers resolution that she thinks will limit Trump's action on Iran. I don't know that the text of that resolution is public yet. But Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who served in the CIA and the Defense Department, is apparently going to manage that process.
“And then I know that Bernie Sanders and Congressman Ro Khanna want to or have dropped a bill that would prevent money from being spent on offensive operations by the U.S. military against Iran. They previously put that legislation for before—it actually got attached to the NDAA, a big funding bill for the Pentagon with I believe 27 House Republican votes, but got split in Congress. I'm sorry, got stripped in conference.
“So I guess my question to you is, what can Congress do to constrain Trump with respect to, you know, going to taking further military action in Iran and what should listeners do if they want to encourage Congress take such action?”
MURPHY: “Both of those initiatives that you outlined are important. A War Powers resolution essentially clarifies that the president can't take offensive action without congressional support. The worry, of course, is that the president will a) veto that resolution or [(b)] ignore it.
“Pulling funding is perhaps more consequential, because by pulling funding, you establish a pretty airtight case in court if the president were to try to go around Congress and use monies appropriated to him to fight a war overseas. Of course, the danger here is that the president is going to continue to rely on this absurdly outsized authority he has under Article Two, which he would claim doesn't require him to come to Congress because he's just responding to imminent attacks or attacks that have been launched.
“And so at some point, Congress is going to have to likely do something that's even stronger than either the measures that have been introduced thus far. The measures introduced thus far say, you can't—you know—use U.S. funds to launch a preemptive attacks against Iran. At some point, Congress may have to just cut-off all funding for any military force against Iran if the president continues to go around us and use this article to authority and listen. And listen, to be honest, a lot of us had reservations about the ways in which the Obama administration used Article Two authority without coming to Congress. They were—the Obama administration was much more, I think, attentive to congressional authorization, but it wasn't uniform.”
VIETOR: “The administration has been making the case for maybe a year that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed after 9/11 somehow authorizes military action in Iran. Do you think it's time to repeal or replace the AUMF?”
MURPHY: It is. We should be re-doing the 2001 AUMF. We still have al-Qaeda elements that exist in the Middle East and in other places that the United States has to fight. But it has now been bastardized to be able to justify fights against all sorts of enemies that weren't contemplated in 2001. You saw Mike Pence, you know, just made this absurd argument over the weekend that Iran was providing shelter to elements that attack the United States through al-Qaeda.
“So we need to do a new authorization of military force against terrorist groups, but then we need to just repeal the authorization of military force in Iraq and for the Iraq war. That authorization may also be used by the administration to try to justify taking the fight to Iran because Iran threatens U.S. forces in Iraq, but that was an authorization to oust Saddam Hussein. Our interests in that country today have nothing to do with the vote that took place in 2003. So that authorization just should be outright repealed.”
VIETOR: “Senator, have you considered authorizing funds for all members of Congress to get memberships Mar-a-Lago so that you can get poolside briefings from the President about upcoming military strikes?”
SENATOR MURPHY: “So when my kids were born, I sort of just foreswore golf—I stopped playing. But now I feel like I have to, you know, pick it back up again. And that would maybe allow me to just start to go down there and linger around the golf course. Right? And maybe I, you know, find a Trump official or Trump himself, you know, walk by me on the tee to the first hole, and I could get the kind of briefing that I thought I was going to get when I you know, ran a $15 million campaign to get elected to the United States Senate.”
VIETOR: “Maybe you can get a contract with Fraud Guarantee too. You can meet some nice Russian officials—it’s just something to chew on. I don’t want to, you know, tell you how to do your business.”
MURPHY: “I would love to meet those guys. I mean, they seem like fascinating individuals. So at some point in my life, coming across people like Lev Parnas, you know, might be worth a laugh at least.”
VIETOR: “So less of a laughing matter. So you know, the coalition to fight ISIS, you talked about some of these lingering al Qaeda elements in the Middle East. The coalition to stop ISIS has said that we need to stop all of our counter-ISIS efforts, stop all of our training, because the forces in Iraq conducting those missions need to protect themselves. They need to protect U.S. personnel in the region, they need to protect our bases. Can you talk about what this strike against the Soleimani and the pausing of that mission against ISIS will mean for our efforts to just like fully root out the organization?”
MURPHY: “So I was in Iraq less than a year ago in the spring of last year, and what we heard was really alarming. ISIS is regrouping—we knew that would happen. But it's happening in part because the United States hasn't done enough to help Iraq rebuild from the massive destruction done to parts of that country, Mosul at the top of the list, when we took out ISIS caliphate.
“ISIS, of course, is also regrouping in Syria as we speak today a consequence in part of our withdrawal from that country militarily. Also, the fact that we allowed hundreds, potentially, of ISIS fighters to escape from prison. And so this is a moment when ISIS is coming back together. It is the worst moment possible for the United States and our allies to stand down in the fight against ISIS.
“ISIS still has intentions to hit the United States and U.S. targets, as well as our allies in Europe. And the fact that we are now shuttering that mission in Iraq after having just effectively shuttered that mission in Syria, and stopping the training of Iraqi forces—it's just a gift to ISIS at a moment when they were starting to get a little traction again. So this is really dangerous. And I hope that Republicans who today are cheering this execution of Qasem Soleimani will at least find some way to put some pressure on the administration to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to get back to this anti-ISIS mission, and we need to do it soon.”
VIETOR: “Yes. Senator, you mentioned a couple times President Trump's decision to withdrawal from the JCPOA the Iran deal back in 2018. I think back to that time in 2015, when Obama proposed and then passed the deal, and the amount of scrutiny from the media, from Congress, the amount of fighting and recrimination that happened around diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, versus how little scrutiny from the media and Congress, there has been to date about an already started war with Iran. How do we fix that imbalance? Because it seems like there's a whole bunch of incentives set up for people like Donald Trump to take military action before they will conduct diplomacy.”
MURPHY: “Well, I mean, you know how I feel about this. I think this entire town is hardwired to understand American strength only through a military lens, and it seeps into the decisions we make about how we fund the U.S. national security infrastructure. We still today have more folks working in military grocery stores than we have diplomats in the State Department. And the responsibility for that imbalance—that imbalance of funding, but that imbalance of emphasis—lies at the feet of both Republicans and Democrats. Right? We have all been responsible for making America think that the only way that you protect this country is by firing a rocket. And that is simply not true.
“And of course, the diplomatic achievement of the Obama administration to take away a path to nuclear weapon from Iran was the seminal example of how you protect American interests with diplomatic power. But I still remain confused as to why all of us here continue to celebrate these dramatic increases in the military budget every year, while we flat-fund effectively the State Department.
“And both Republicans and Democrats, and the Democrats running for president, have to start talking more fulsomely about how you rebuild the State Department, how you rebuild diplomacy, and how that is absolutely essential in the long-run to protecting the United States.”
VIETOR: “I totally agree. You put forward a comprehensive plan for how to do that. That I think people should check out—frankly.”
MURPHY: “Rethinking the Battlefield: it's proposal to double the size of the State Department over five years and USAID. And that sounds like a pie in the sky proposal. But doubling those two budgets is less than the annual increase in appropriations that we give to the Defense Department every year.
“And we just have to recognize that the threats posed to this country today, you know, are by and large, not conventional military threats. The way that Iran throws its power around the region is yes, often through conventional military attacks, but through propaganda, through the way in which they use their oil, through the way in which they use information networks, and we just don't have the capacity to meet those, those capabilities that when Iran uses them, when Russia uses them, when China uses them. So you know, at some point we have to step back from this management of U.S. foreign policy crisis by crisis and ask ourselves why we're getting beat over and over again. Right? And the reason is I believe that we are just badly mis-resourced.”
VIETOR: “Yeah, agreed. Last question for you: so, John Bolton this morning, the former National Security Adviser said that if the Senate issues a subpoena for his testimony in the impeachment inquiry, he is prepared to testify. For listeners at home, who gets to decide if Bolton is subpoenaed, and do you think that the Senate should call him to testify?”
MURPHY: “I wish the answer was different. But I think the answer is Mitch McConnell. Now technically 50 senators—51 senators—get to decide that question, right. If we have 51 senators who agree to vote in favor of a resolution to subpoena John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney, or the emails that are still sitting in the White House that I think very clearly likely give further evidence to the size of this conspiracy to defraud taxpayers, then those subpoenas are issued.
“But my guess is that Mitch McConnell isn't going to let four of his senators vote with Democrats. And that ultimately it is his decision. And the leadership of the Republican party in the Senate's decision as to whether John Bolton comes and testifies before us.
“But like, Bolton is now you know, this giant blinking red light as to why we can't rush this trial without any witnesses. I mean, it would just be criminal. It would be senatorial malpractice if McConnell now, in the face of the offer for Bolton to tell us everything he knows, tries to speed this to an end process. But I thought the same thing about not giving Merrick Garland a hearing. I thought that would be senatorial malpractice. It was, and it didn't matter. So nothing is bond—is beyond Mitch McConnell.”
VIETOR: “Yes, that's why everyone listening needs to pick a Senate race to volunteer for or give money to and vote accordingly.”
MURPHY: “None of this is outside of the realm of politics, right? I mean, we can all sit here and be scared stiff as to what is going to happen. Ultimately, through this blind escalation with Iran, but the reason we might not be able to check his authority is because we're down three votes in the Senate. And if we correct for that, then everything changes.”
VIETOR: “Agreed. Senator Murphy: thank you so much for doing the show and for everything you're doing to constrain this lunatic who lives in the White House.”
MURPHY: “Same. Thanks to you guys.”