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Mac Thornberry 'convinced' Iran threats are credible

Mac Thornberry
The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee says he is "convinced" there is cause for concern around Iran's activists following a pair of briefings on the Gulf nation.

“I am convinced that the information and warnings that we have collected are of greater concern than the normal Iranian harassment activity that we’ve seen in the Persian Gulf and the surrounding area,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s business as usual. It is cause for greater concern. ... and a great part of that concern relates to Americans being targeted.”

Several prominent senators on Thursday called for more information from the Trump administration after it pulled nonemergency U.S. personnel from Iraq as part of escalating tensions with Tehran.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) – the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations – requested in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he brief senators on the decision, saying they had "great concern" about the move.

Lawmakers are specifically asking for the administration to explain the intelligence it received about Iran that warranted the quick deployment of a bomber task force and carrier strike group to the region earlier this month. Bolton said at the time that the move was in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

The Graham and Leahy letter also comes as Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday called for acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford to testify publicly before the Senate Armed Services Committee about intelligence concerning Iran.

“At this moment, the only thing that is abundantly clear about the administration's Iran policy is its lack of clarity and the lack of consultation with Congress and with the American people,” Schumer said.

Top congressional leaders later in the day received such a classified briefing but would not say whether they were satisfied with the information or whether alleged threats from Iran are credible.

Pompeo, Shanahan, Dunford and CIA Director Gina Haspel gave a briefing to the so-called Gang of Eight: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Schumer, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calf.), House Intelligence ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).

But Thornberry said the briefings he attended – one by U.S. Central Command officials and the other from Joint Chiefs of Staff officials, meetings open to all members of the committee – have left him confident the administration is making the right moves.

“There had to be a strong signal sent to Iran that we would defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he said. “I hope everybody can rally around that. Showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do.”

He added that the number of planes and ships that the U.S. sends to the region is a decision “best left to the military. But the hope for me and pretty much everyone is that Iran decides it’s not worth attacking us ... and that can be a deterrent.”

Asked whether he was concerned that recent comments by President Trump and national security adviser John Bolton may escalate tensions with Iran unnecessarily, Thornberry said his sense is that “Iran is not hanging on every word that’s tweeted or said by Bolton or anybody else.”

“What they do watch is what we do. So I do think showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do and hopefully deter any sort of attacks from happening.”

He added: “If we’re attacked, I expect our military forces will be in a position to respond. I hope that’s not what happens. ... It shouldn’t happen. I hope that the tensions start to diminish.”

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