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Rep. Ro Khanna on Qassem Soleimani Assassination: Trump’s Actions Are Unconstitutional

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We continue our discussion of the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani with Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California. Khanna says he believes the assassination was planned for some time and that Congress has failed to hold the Trump administration accountable. “I believe that the president’s policies are putting us in tremendous danger, and the motives are almost not relevant. What’s relevant is that he acted in a way that’s unconstitutional,” Khanna says.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to Ro Khanna, who is the Democratic congressmember from Silicon Valley in California, member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Your response, as you join us by telephone, to what has just taken place, Congressmember Khanna?

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, this is what many of us feared. As you know, I had an amendment in the National Defense Authorization that would have prevented Iran from having — any offensive attack against Iran and any funding for that attack. That amendment was stripped from the final bill at the Pentagon’s insistence. My belief is that the Pentagon has had this kind of activity in the works and planned for a while, and they have not come to Congress. But the tragedy is that Congress has not insisted on having that authorization.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain. Explain what has just happened. You, along with Senator Bernie Sanders, fiercely condemned the bipartisan passage of the Pentagon spending bill, the overall spending bill. Why do you believe this allowed for the assassination?

REP. RO KHANNA: There was an amendment in that bipartisan bill, that had passed the House of Representatives, that would have prevented the Congress from authorizing any funding for an offensive strike against Iran, including any Iranian official. That clear language was saying that the president, the Pentagon had to come to Congress before taking any offensive action. This is clearly an offensive action. It may be an action of retaliation, but it’s an offensive action. It’s not an action of self-defense where there was imminent harm. And this is exactly what the amendment would have prohibited. That is why the Pentagon pushed back incredibly hard on keeping that amendment in the National Defense Authorization. The White House pushed back incredibly hard. And the amendment was removed, even though the House had passed it and even though a majority of senators had supported it. The amendment didn’t make it into the final bill. And I believe that was a signal to the Pentagon that Congress wasn’t going to stand up against this kind of action in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, you tweeted, “Soleimani has blood on his hands. So did Saddam Hussein. But we shouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq. And we now must not in Iran.” Can you elaborate?

REP. RO KHANNA: Surely. I mean, no one is arguing that Soleimani hasn’t done certain terrible things. I mean, he has orchestrated campaigns. He has possibly ordered the killing of Americans. And that is a — he’s not a good person. Neither was Saddam Hussein. Neither was Gaddafi.

The question, though, is first constitutional. The United States doesn’t go and start wars without congressional authorization, and that didn’t happen here. And second, the question is: What is an appropriate response in terms of keeping us safe and not allowing terrorism to spread? And what we have seen is that the “war on terrorism” over the last 20 years has been a failure. Terrorism has spread. It’s 5,000% up and spread around the world since this “war on terror” has started. And we’ve spent trillions of dollars in these wars, that could have gone into other initiatives to make our country stronger.

AMY GOODMAN: This is —

REP. RO KHANNA: And so, my —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

REP. RO KHANNA: So, my point is that, you know, just because someone may be a bad actor doesn’t mean that the United States can go to war without congressional authorization.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking on CNN just before we went to broadcast.

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: I’ve watched these protests over the last weeks. They weren’t burning American flags. They were demanding that the Iraqi political leadership stop their kleptocracy, stop their political shenanigans. And Qassem Suleimani was at the center of that. He was driving bad outcomes for the Iraqi people. He was causing many Muslims in the region to be killed. I saw last night there was dancing in the streets in parts of Iraq. We have every expectation that people, not only in Iraq, but in Iran, will view the American action last night as giving them freedom, freedom to have the opportunity for success and prosperity for their nations. And while the political leadership may not want that, the people in these nations will demand it.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, your response?

REP. RO KHANNA: The justification for American military intervention, that somehow we’re going to bring freedom, that somehow the people in those countries wanted it, but if Secretary Pompeo really was convinced about that, why didn’t he come to Congress to make this case? His argument is that this doesn’t seem to be an imminent attack. He’s arguing that this was a planned attempt to help bring greater freedom to Iran or to the people there. And if that was the case, he should make that case to the United States Congress. But he knows that if he had made that case to the Congress, Congress wouldn’t have authorized this kind of offensive attack.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, Michael Moore — right? — the Oscar-winning filmmaker, tweeted this New York Times front page from December 17, 1998, with the front-page banner headline “Impeachment Vote in House Delayed as Clinton Launches Iraq Air Strike, Citing Military Need to Move Swiftly.” Are we seeing echoes of the past? You have right now, today, the Senate majority leader, with the Senate coming back today, speaking about impeachment. You have the OMB releasing all of these emails that show the direct line to President Trump stopping the aid to Ukraine, which, of course, was about investigating his political rival, Joe Biden. Is this a wag-the-dog situation?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, no, I don’t want to speculate on motives without evidence, but I think the facts are bad in themselves. And here is the facts — here are the facts as we know it. This president and his advisers have been itching for an escalation with Iran from the day he took office. He got us out of the JCPOA, the agreement we had with Iran that was leading to greater peace. He declared the Iran Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. He has engaged in constant escalation and skirmishes. And this is the highest escalation. So, I believe that the president’s policies are putting us in tremendous danger. And the motives are almost not relevant. What’s relevant is he’s acted in a way that’s unconstitutional. He is potentially getting us in another endless war. And he’s getting us into the Middle East in another intervention, when he promised exactly the opposite on the campaign trail.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernie Sanders tweeted an hour ago, “I was right about Vietnam. I was right about Iraq. I will do everything in my power to prevent a war with Iran. I apologize to no one.” You are co-chair of his campaign, Ro Khanna. Last 10 seconds, your final words?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, this is why we need Bernie Sanders as president. He is — he had warned against Iraq. In fact, the Iraq invasion strengthened Iran in the region. He will stop these unconstitutional wars. And he had the courage to vote against the National Defense Authorization and to anticipate this situation. He had warned, as had some of us in Congress, that we needed to restrict this president before the president took this kind of action.

AMY GOODMAN: California Congressmember Ro Khanna, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. RO KHANNA: Thank you.

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U.S. Assassination of Soleimani Could Spark “Another Round of Civil War” in Iraq

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