Inspector General’s Firing Puts Pompeo’s Use of Taxpayer Funds Under Scrutiny

Accusations of improperly using government resources have trailed the secretary of state, but President Trump’s move to fire the State Department inspector general has handed Democrats a new weapon.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo swatted away questions about his use of government resources again and again last year.

In January, news reports cited unnamed diplomats complaining about his wife, Susan, traveling with him across the Middle East during a partial government shutdown.

In the summer, members of Congress began examining a whistle-blower complaint accusing Mr. Pompeo of asking diplomatic security agents to run errands like picking up restaurant takeout meals and retrieving the family dog, Sherman, from a groomer.

And in October, a Democratic senator called for a special counsel to investigate his use of State Department aircraft and funds for frequent visits to Kansas, where he was reported to be considering a Senate run.

In each case, Mr. Pompeo or other department officials denied wrongdoing, and the secretary moved on unscathed. But his record is now coming under fresh scrutiny after President Trump told Congress on Friday night that he was firing the State Department inspector general — at Mr. Pompeo’s private urging, a White House official said.

The inspector general, Steve A. Linick, who leads hundreds of employees in investigating fraud and waste at the State Department, had begun an inquiry into Mr. Pompeo’s possible misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and his wife, according to Democratic aides. That included walking the dog, picking up dry-cleaning and making restaurant reservations, one said — an echo of the whistle-blower complaint from last year.

The details of Mr. Linick’s investigation are not clear, and it may be unrelated to the previous allegations. But Democrats and other critics of Mr. Pompeo say the cloud of accusations shows a pattern of abuse of taxpayer money — one that may mean lawmakers will be less willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt as congressional Democrats begin an investigation into Mr. Linick’s dismissal.

The investigation is aimed at determining whether the act was one of illegal retaliation intended to shield Mr. Pompeo from accountability — which “would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions,” Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, leading Democrats on foreign policy committees, said in a joint statement.

Mr. Engel stressed on Sunday that Mr. Pompeo must turn over all requested records, and said, “What I’ve learned about Inspector General Stephen Linick’s removal is deeply troubling.”

Mr. Linick is the fourth inspector general to fall in a purge this spring by Mr. Trump of officials he has deemed insufficiently loyal, but the dismissal is the first to prompt a formal inquiry in Congress, and it has also drawn criticism from a few Republicans.

The president has the right to fire any federal employee,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But the fact is, if it looks like it is in retaliation for something that the I.G., the inspector general, is doing, that could be unlawful.”

She called the move “unsavory” — “when you take out someone who is there to stop waste, fraud, abuse or other violations of the law that they believe to be happening.”

Aides to Mr. Pompeo did not reply to repeated requests for comment. The White House did not respond to questions about whether it knew of Mr. Linick’s investigation into Mr. Pompeo when it moved to dismiss him.

Mr. Linick’s office has not commented on that inquiry or on Mr. Trump’s announcement, which started a 30-day clock on the inspector general’s departure. Employees under Mr. Linick generally view him as competent and nonpartisan. Mr. Linick began his current job in 2013, and he held senior posts in the Justice Department starting in the administration of President George W. Bush.

In May 2016, Mr. Linick issued a report sharply criticizing Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, for her use of a private email server, and last fall he played a minor role during the impeachment hearings against Mr. Trump.

A few Republican senators, notably Mitt Romney and Charles E. Grassley, have expressed varying degrees of disapproval of Mr. Trump’s move. But on Sunday, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said: “I understand it. I don’t disagree with it.”

He told CNN that he had spoken with White House and State Department officials about the matter. “I’m not crying big crocodile tears over this termination, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Since Mr. Pompeo took up his current post in April 2018, and for more than one year before that as the C.I.A. director, he has been peerless in his navigation of Mr. Trump’s inner world of loyal advisers and domestic politics around foreign policy. While sticking close to Mr. Trump, he has weathered the impeachment process involving Ukraine, questions over the decision to kill a top Iranian general and the fraught diplomacy between the president and Kim Jong-un, the unpredictable leader of North Korea.

But the maelstrom of questions that began over the weekend could present a formidable challenge to Mr. Pompeo’s political instincts and career ambitions. People close to him say he is thinking of running for president in 2024. And more immediately, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has repeatedly urged him to run for an open Senate seat in Kansas — an important race given that the Republicans are at risk of losing control of the Senate in the November elections.

Mr. Pompeo knows the potential effect of a congressional investigation on a politician’s career: As a Republican congressman, he helped lead the charge against Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, over the deaths of four Americans at a mission in Benghazi, Libya, an issue that hounded her during the 2016 presidential campaign.

For Mr. Pompeo, the spotlight now falls on much more personal matters, including the role of his wife. Other secretaries of state have occasionally traveled with spouses, but some officials in the State Department say Mrs. Pompeo, a former bank executive, has played an unusually active role in running meetings and accompanying her husband on official business.

She has this quasi-official role, where my friends are called to meetings she is leading at the department,” said Brett Bruen, a former career diplomat and director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “They know that’s not supposed to happen, because she isn’t in their chain of command. But what can they do?

Mrs. Pompeo has accompanied Mr. Pompeo on several long trips overseas. In January 2019, she went with him on an eight-day journey across the Middle East — which raised questions among some officials because most State Department employees, including those supporting the trip, were working without pay during a partial government shutdown. Mrs. Pompeo has also flown with her husband on multinight trips to Switzerland and Italy, which included a visit to the secretary’s ancestral home region of Abruzzo.

Mrs. Pompeo, who is not paid by the State Department, has met with embassy families and local figures on some of the trips, and Mr. Pompeo has called her a “force multiplier.”

Mrs. Pompeo also played an unusually prominent volunteer role at the C.I.A. when Mr. Pompeo was the director there; she traveled with her husband, used an office space in C.I.A. headquarters and asked employees to assist her — actions that an agency spokesman defended at the time. Their son used a C.I.A. shooting range recreationally, according to CNN.

Mr. Pompeo’s frequent trips to Kansas last year also drew intense scrutiny. He went four times, three on the auspices of official business and flying in and out on State Department aircraft. To many, the trips appeared to be part of a shadow Senate campaign for 2020 and had little to do with foreign policy, despite Mr. Pompeo’s denials and his refusal so far to agree to run for the seat.

On the last trip, in October, Mr. Pompeo took part in a student event with Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter. And he discussed the Senate race with Charles Koch, the billionaire who is a longtime supporter of Mr. Pompeo, and Dave Robertson, the president and chief operating officer of Koch Industries, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Kansas City Star ran a blistering editorial denouncing Mr. Pompeo’s frequent trips to his adopted home state, telling him he should quit and run for Senate or “by all means focus on U.S. diplomacy — remember diplomacy? — and stop hanging out here every chance he gets.”

Four days later, Mr. Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel asking it to investigate Mr. Pompeo for potential violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from using their official positions to engage in partisan political activities.

Separately, Democratic lawmakers on a House committee last year began looking at a whistle-blower complaint that Mr. Pompeo, his wife and adult son were asking diplomatic security agents to run personal errands, including picking up Chinese food and the family dog from a groomer. The whistle-blower said agents had complained they were “UberEats with guns,” according to CNN, which first reported on the accusations.

Lon Fairchild, the agent in charge of the Diplomatic Security Service, told CNN that he had seen no wrongdoing. The Democratic lawmakers did not open a formal inquiry.

More broadly, Mr. Pompeo has wrestled with managing the State Department, though he was initially hailed by many employees as a welcome change from Rex W. Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s first secretary of state, who was perceived as aloof and dismissive.

Last fall, current and former State Department officials criticized Mr. Pompeo for not vocally defending diplomats who were testifying in the impeachment inquiry and coming under attack from Mr. Trump, and for his own role in the earlier ouster of Marie L. Yovanovitch, a respected career diplomat, from the ambassadorship to Ukraine.

Since the winter, Mr. Pompeo has also found himself on unsteady ground on policy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Usually outspoken on policy matters, he seemed to play a more subdued role early in the crisis. Then he chose to pull back from diplomacy with China, where the outbreak began, and relentlessly criticized the Chinese Communist Party for its actions. He pushed spy agencies to look for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that the outbreak began in a virology laboratory in the city of Wuhan, and later said there was “enormous” and “significant” evidence behind the theory even when many scientists and intelligence analysts argued otherwise.

On Sunday, Mr. Pompeo warned China in a statement that he was aware “the Chinese government has threatened to interfere with the work of American journalists in Hong Kong,” which has semi-autonomy. He did not give details, but said that “these journalists are members of a free press, not propaganda cadres, and their valuable reporting informs Chinese citizens and the world.”

China Expels Three Wall Street Journal Reporters

China’s Foreign Ministry says move was punishment for a recent opinion piece published by the Journal

China revoked the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters based in Beijing, the first time in the post-Mao era that the Chinese government has expelled multiple journalists from one international news organization at the same time.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the move Wednesday was punishment for a recent opinion piece published by the Journal.

Deputy Bureau Chief Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, both U.S. nationals, as well as reporter Philip Wen, an Australian national, have been ordered to leave the country within five days, said Jonathan Cheng, the Journal’s China bureau chief.

The expulsions by China’s Foreign Ministry followed widespread public anger at the headline on the Feb. 3 opinion piece, which referred to China as “the real sick man of Asia.” The ministry and state-media outlets had repeatedly called attention to the headline in statements and posts on social media and had threatened unspecified consequences.

“Regrettably, what the WSJ has done so far is nothing but parrying and dodging its responsibility,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a daily news briefing Wednesday. “The Chinese people do not welcome those media that speak racially discriminatory language and maliciously slander and attack China.”

The three journalists work for the Journal’s news operation. The Journal operates with a strict separation between news and opinion.

Wall Street Journal Publisher and Dow Jones CEO William Lewis said he was disappointed by the decision to expel the journalists and asked the Foreign Ministry to reconsider.

“This opinion piece was published independently from the WSJ newsroom and none of the journalists being expelled had any involvement with it,” Mr. Lewis said.

“Our opinion pages regularly publish articles with opinions that people disagree—or agree—with and it was not our intention to cause offense with the headline on the piece,” Mr. Lewis said. “However, this has clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people, which we regret.”

Dow Jones is owned by News Corp.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized China’s action, saying: “The United States condemns China’s expulsion of three Wall Street Journal foreign correspondents. Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech. The United States hopes that the Chinese people will enjoy the same access to accurate information and freedom of speech that Americans enjoy.”

China is battling a fast-spreading coronavirus, as well as questions from Chinese citizens and some global health experts about Beijing’s handling of the epidemic, which has included the lockdown of much of Hubei province, with a population of nearly 60 million. Public anger at a perceived lack of transparency surrounding the coronavirus has exploded online, overwhelming the country’s censorship apparatus.

In August, the Chinese government didn’t renew press credentials for Chun Han Wong, a Beijing-based correspondent who co-wrote a news article on a cousin of Chinese President Xi Jinping whose activities were being scrutinized by Australian law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Xi’s private life and those of his relatives are considered sensitive by Chinese authorities. The Foreign Ministry had cautioned the Journal at the time against publishing the article, warning of unspecified consequences.

Mr. Wong was the first China-based Journal reporter to have his credentials denied since the newspaper opened a bureau in Beijing in 1980.

Beijing has taken a more combative stance with the foreign media in recent years, as Mr. Xi’s government has exerted greater control over information and reasserted the Communist Party’s influence over citizens’ lives.

It has declined to renew the credentials of several reporters, but it is rare for it to expel a credentialed foreign correspondent.

China hasn’t expelled a credentialed foreign correspondent since 1998.

Chinese authorities expelled two American reporters simultaneously in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, though they worked for different news organizations. John Pomfret was a correspondent for the Associated Press while Alan Pessin was Beijing bureau chief for Voice of America.

The simultaneous expulsions of Wall Street Journal reporters Wednesday marks “an unprecedented form of retaliation against foreign journalists in China,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said. “The action taken against The Journal correspondents is an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organizations by taking retribution against their China-based correspondents.”

Censorship has been more strictly imposed on domestic news outlets and social media, and authorities have strengthened internet firewalls designed to keep Chinese people from accessing foreign reporting that Beijing deems objectionable.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said it had decided to identify the U.S. operations of state-run Chinese news outlets as foreign missions akin to embassies or consulates, the latest in a series of moves designed to pressure China’s Communist Party into loosening controls on diplomats and foreign media. Employees of those news organizations will now be required to register with the State Department as consular staff, though their reporting activities won’t be curtailed, U.S. officials said.

Mr. Geng, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, called that change “totally unjustified and unacceptable” and warned of unspecified repercussions.

The phrase “sick man of Asia” was used by both outsiders and Chinese intellectuals to refer to a weakened China’s exploitation by European powers and Japan in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a period now described in Chinese history textbooks as the “century of humiliation.”

The Journal’s use of the phrase in a headline, on an opinion column by Hudson Institute scholar Walter Russell Mead that referred to the coronavirus epidemic in China, sparked waves of angry commentary on Chinese social media.

The three Journal reporters are based in Beijing.

Mr. Chin, 43 years old, has worked for the Journal in various roles since 2008 and in recent years covered cybersecurity, law and human rights. A team he led won a 2018 Gerald Loeb Award for its coverage of the Communist Party’s pioneering embrace of digital surveillance.

Ms. Deng, 32 years old, joined the Journal in 2012 and has reported out of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. Her recent areas of focus included China’s economy and finance, and the trade war between the U.S. and China. Ms. Deng is currently reporting in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus epidemic originated late last year.

Mr. Wen, 35 years old, started at the Journal in 2019 and has been reporting on Chinese politics. He co-wrote the article with Mr. Wong on the cousin of Mr. Xi whose activities were being scrutinized by Australian law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.

All three have reported on the Chinese Communist Party’s mass surveillance and detention of Uighur Muslims in the country’s far western Xinjiang region.

Iran Could Still Strike Back at the U.S.

The Islamic Republic is too weak to wage a conventional war on the U.S. — but that doesn’t mean it poses no threat.

How might Iran respond to the death of Qasem Soleimani? Ever since the Trump administration’s January 3 killing of Soleimani, the Islamic Republic’s top military commander, that question has been on the mind of policymakers in Washington and the American public at large.

Iran’s January 8 rocket attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq clearly constituted part of its response, but Iranian leaders quickly made clear that more retaliation is forthcoming. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself has said that, while the rocket attack was a “slap” at the United States, it was “not enough,” and the Islamic Republic will continue its opposition to the United States with the ultimate goal of driving America out of the Middle East altogether.

Doing so, however, is likely to prove difficult for Iran. As a recent analysis by CNBC notes, sanctions leveled by the Trump administration over the past two years have inflicted extensive damage on the Iranian economy. The country’s GDP shrunk by nearly 10 percent last year, and its exports of crude oil declined from a peak of 2.5 million barrels per day to less than 500,000 daily.

Domestic conditions, meanwhile, are deteriorating. Inflation is on the rise within the Islamic Republic and is now pegged at over 30 percent. So, too, is joblessness; nearly a fifth of the country’s workforce is currently estimated to be unemployed. Meanwhile, governmental expenditures have surged as Iran’s ayatollahs struggle to keep a lid on an increasingly impoverished, and discontented, population.

All of this, according to CNBC’s analysis, profoundly limits Iran’s ability “to fund a war” against the United States. But that doesn’t mean the threat from Iran is nonexistent. Iran still has the ability to “ramp up its aggression against the U.S.” through the use of its network of proxy forces in the region.

That network is extensive — and lethal. It comprises not only Iran’s traditional terrorist proxies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement, but also assorted Shiite militias in Iraq (the so-called “Hashd al-Shaabi”) and even Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Recently, it has also made use of theShi’a Liberation Army” (SLA), a group of as many as 200,000 Shiite fighters — drawn from Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere — that has been trained and equipped by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and deployed to foreign theaters such as Syria.

Notably, these forces appear to have been thrown into chaos, at least temporarily, by the killing of Soleimani. Reports from the region suggest that Iraqi militias are “in a state of disarray” after the death of the Iranian general, and aren’t currently ready to strike U.S. or allied targets. Over time, however, we can expect Tehran to regain control and direction of its troops and weaponize them anew against the United States and regional U.S. allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. That is doubtless the top priority of Soleimani’s successor as head of the Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani, who has already commenced outreach to Iranian proxies in an effort to reinforce Tehran’s support for “resistance” activities.

Tehran likewise has another potent tool by which to target the United States: cyber warfare. Over the past decade, the Iranian regime has made enormous investments in its cyber-war capabilities and carried out a series of demonstration attacks on targets such as Saudi Arabia’s state oil company and various U.S. financial institutions to showcase its newfound technological prowess. In the wake of President Trump’s pullout from President Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal, Iran reshaped its cyber-activism against the United States, focusing less on offensive attacks and more on gathering information about potential policy from the notoriously opaque new administration in Washington.

But Tehran’s potential to do significant harm to the U.S. in cyberspace remains. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned publicly that Iran could carry out a cyberattack against critical U.S. infrastructure in the near future, with potentially significant “disruptive effects.” And so far, neither the Pentagon nor the State Department has articulated much by way of a strategy to deter Iran from carrying out such attacks, or to mitigate the damage they could do. (In the aftermath of Soleimani’s killing, that lack of strategy has become a matter of growing concern on Capitol Hill.)

Perhaps the most compelling reason to expect an asymmetric Iranian response to Soleimani’s killing, however, is that asymmetric warfare plays to Iran’s inherent strengths. Ever since the regime’s grinding eight-year war with neighboring Iraq in the 1980s — a conflict that Iran lost handily — its leaders have exhibited a strong penchant for military asymmetry over direct confrontation. This preference has only been reinforced by persistent Western sanctions, which have eroded the country’s conventional military capabilities and made the acquisition of spare parts and matériel considerably more difficult.

Soleimani was the regime’s principal architect of asymmetric war, and had devoted nearly a quarter-century to building up the Islamic Republic’s asymmetric potency. That is precisely why his targeted killing by the Trump administration represents such a significant blow to the integrity of Iran’s proxy network — and to the prudence of its time-tested asymmetric strategy. Going forward, Tehran may well have to rethink its approach, and could conclude that the potential costs of continuing its campaign of aggression against U.S. forces in the region are now simply too high. If it doesn’t, however, the very capabilities that Soleimani spent his career cultivating will remain the most potent weapons the Islamic Republic has to wield against the United States.

Democrats Press for Details on Suleimani Strike, but Trump Administration Gives Few

Administration officials argue that the general was plotting imminent attacks, but Democrats said that the intelligence they have seen was too vague.

WASHINGTON — Under increasing pressure to defend the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq, senior Trump administration officials offered new justifications but little detail on Tuesday, citing threats to the American Embassy in Baghdad and intelligence suggesting other imminent attacks that helped prompt the strike.

Democrats stepped up their criticism of intelligence that the administration provided immediately after the drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The administration’s formal notification to Congress, which remains classified, provided no information on future threats or the imminent attack, officials who have read it said.

Several said it was improperly classified, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called it “vague and unacceptably unspecific.” Lawmakers pressed for more answers on Tuesday at a briefing by the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, and other intelligence officials.

Iranian forces or their proxies were days from attacking American personnel when President Trump decided to strike General Suleimani, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. Mr. Esper added that General Suleimani had traveled to Baghdad to coordinate attacks following up on a two-day siege of the United States Embassy there last week by pro-Iranian demonstrators. He declined to elaborate but called the intelligence “exquisite.”

Mr. Trump was more forceful but no more specific. General Suleimani “was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “And we stopped him.”

Their defense of the killing came as Tehran launched its initial response, firing a dozen ballistic missiles early Wednesday from Iranian territory targeting American forces in Iraq’s Anbar Province and Kurdish region. A Pentagon official confirmed that the missiles were launched at bases hosting American forces, but provided no initial damage assessment.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a direct and proportional response to the Suleimani killing, not the kind of covert action through proxy forces that Tehran has traditionally employed. American officials in recent weeks warned about the threat from short-range ballistic missiles that Iran had smuggled into Iraq.

As the threats from Tehran increased, several NATO allies conducting training for Iraqi troops — including Canada, Germany and Croatia — decided at least temporarily to remove some troops from Iraq. Canada, which leads the NATO training mission, announced it was withdrawing its 500 troops and sending them to Kuwait.

Fueled by what they have called weak and inadequate briefings from the administration, Democrats grew increasingly vocal in their skepticism, arguing the administration has a high burden to meet to show that the strike was justified.

Some drew comparisons to the flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the recent revelations about the failures of the war in Afghanistan.

“Between no weapons of mass destruction, no clear and present danger, the Afghanistan papers — there’s plenty to be skeptical about,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a brief interview. “The burden is on the administration to prove the truthfulness and veracity of how they made their decision.”

Ms. Haspel has spoken with multiple lawmakers in recent days, some of whom have urged her to be more forthcoming about the intelligence behind the killing. Ms. Haspel, in turn, has emphasized that she had serious concerns about the threat posed by General Suleimani if the administration held off on targeting him.

Before the drone strike that killed the general, the pro-Iranian protesters had attacked barricades outside the American Embassy in Baghdad, and American officials feared the attacks could resume and the situation could easily grow more dangerous, threatening the diplomats and military personnel who work at the compound.

General Suleimani had arrived in Baghdad to pressure the Iraqi government to kick out American forces after attacks by the United States on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group with ties to Iran, according to American officials.

One official noted that General Suleimani was traveling with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi who helps lead the Iranian-backed militias and who was coordinating the attacks on the American Embassy. Mr. al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike.

Additionally, the classified document sent to Capitol Hill only recounts the attacks that Iran and its proxies have carried out in recent months and weeks rather than outlining new threats, according to three American officials.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. demanded that Mr. Trump give a “sober-minded explanation” of the strike, its consequences and the intelligence that prompted it.

“All we’ve heard from this administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers, repeated assertions of an imminent threat without the necessary evidence to support that conclusion,” Mr. Biden, a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in remarks from Pier 59 in New York. If there was a threat, he added, “we’re owed an explanation and the facts to back it up.”

Iranian-supported militias have increasingly directed attacks at Iraqi bases with American forces over the past two months, officials have said. Since May, intelligence and military officials have warned that Iran has been preparing for attacks against Americans in the Middle East.

The reports have prompted the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to relocate officers out of the American Embassy in Baghdad in recent days and weeks, though some C.I.A. officers were relocated earlier, according to officials briefed on the matter. Some went to other parts of Iraq, and officials emphasized that the moves had not diminished intelligence collection on Iranian activity in the country.

“We’re all going to want to hear why they thought targeting Suleimani was the best option, what were the other targets on the table, did they know about the collateral damage?” he said.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has long vocally opposed the lengthy deployments of American forces overseas, has emerged as one of the few Republicans willing to criticize the decision. He questioned the administration’s claim of an imminent attack, citing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated criticism of General Suleimani.

“I’ve always been surprised at how presidents in general, including President Obama, stretch the idea of what imminence is,” Mr. Paul said. “I can tell you the secretary of state’s been talking about for over a year all the things Suleimani has done. I think they found this as an opportune time to take him out.”

Mr. Pompeo has led the administration’s defense of the strike and said on Tuesday that the intelligence was presented to Mr. Trump in broad detail before he ordered the strike.

“It was the right decision,” Mr. Pompeo said.

And Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, said that General Suleimani was plotting attacks on “diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines” at multiple facilities.

Mr. O’Brien said the intelligence would most likely remain classified to avoid putting sources of intelligence and collection methods at risk. But, he added, “I can tell you that the evidence was strong.”

With the exception of Mr. Paul, most Republicans on Capitol Hill have coalesced around the administration.

“We had very clear, very solid information from the intelligence community that indeed there were going to be imminent attacks that could involve hundreds of people, could involve even thousands of people,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters late last week, calling the intelligence “rock solid.”

The House was set this week to consider measures to curtail the president’s war-making powers on Iran by invoking the War Powers Resolution. A similar measure could come to a vote on the Senate floor as early as next week. And the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee announced a hearing set for next Tuesday on the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

Khamenei Wants to Put Iran’s Stamp on Reprisal for U.S. Killing of Top General

In a departure from Iran’s usual tactics of hiding behind proxies, the country’s supreme leader wants any retaliation for the killing of a top military commander to be carried out openly by Iranian forces.

In the tense hours following the American killing of a top Iranian military commander, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made a rare appearance at a meeting of the government’s National Security Council to lay down the parameters for any retaliation. It must be a direct and proportional attack on American interests, he said, openly carried out by Iranian forces themselves, three Iranians familiar with the meeting said Monday.

It was a startling departure for the Iranian leadership. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Tehran had almost always cloaked its attacks behind the actions of proxies it had cultivated around the region. But in the fury generated by the killing of the military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a close ally and personal friend of the supreme leader, the ayatollah was willing to cast aside those traditional cautions.

The nation’s anger over the commander’s death was on vivid display Monday, as hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran for a funeral procession and Mr. Khamenei wept openly over the coffin.

After weeks of furious protests across the country against corruption and misrule, both those who had criticized and supported the government marched together, united in outrage. Subway trains and stations were packed with mourners hours before dawn, and families brought children carrying photographs of General Suleimani.

A reformist politician, Sadegh Kharazi, said he had not seen crowds this size since the 1989 funeral of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“We are ready to take a fierce revenge against America,” Gen. Hamid Sarkheili of the Revolutionary Guard, declared to the throng. “American troops in the Persian Gulf and in Iraq and Syria are within our reach.”

No negotiations or deal, only war with America,” students chanted in an online video from a university campus.

A renowned eulogist and member of the Revolutionary Guard, Sadegh Ahangaran, exhorted the funeral crowds to raise their voices so “damned America can hear you” and to “wave the flags in preparation for war.”

The increasingly public vows of direct action on Monday constituted Iran’s latest act of defiance to President Trump. Over the weekend the president had repeatedly threatened to retaliate for any attacks against American interests by ordering airstrikes against as many as 52 potential targets, one for each of the American hostages held after the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979.

In response, Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, on Monday responded with his own numerology. “Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290,” he said on Twitter, a reference to the 290 people killed in 1988 in the accidental downing of an Iranian airliner by an American warship. “Never threaten the Iranian nation,” Mr. Rouhani added.

Where, when and even if Iran may choose to retaliate remains a matter of speculation. As Iranian leaders weighed just what form it might take, analysts said the targets included American troops in neighboring Syria and Iraq, American bases in the Persian Gulf or American embassies or diplomats almost anywhere.

When previous attempts at direct strikes or assassinations have proved unsuccessful, some noted, Iranian-backed militants have turned to the simpler tactic of killing civilians with terrorist bombs.

This was the sequence in 2012 with the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. After failing in attempts to attack Israeli targets or kill Israeli officials in revenge for the killing of one of the group’s leaders, the militants eventually settled on the easier job of bombing a bus load of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, said Afshon Ostovar, a scholar of Iran at the Naval Postgraduate School.

“We are in uncharted territory, and the truth of the matter is nobody knows how Iran is going to respond. I don’t think even Iran knows,” Mr. Ostovar said. “But I think there is a blood lust right now in the Revolutionary Guards.”

In Iraq, where the Parliament had earlier called for the immediate expulsion of the 5,000 American troops stationed there, Prime Minister Mahdi on Monday listed steps to curtail the troops’ movements.

While plans were being made for departure of the Americans, he said, they will now be limited to “training and advising” Iraqi forces, required to remain within the bases and barred from Iraqi air space.

Mr. Mahdi met with Matthew Tueller, the American ambassador to Iraq, on Monday, and “stressed the need for joint action to implement the withdrawal,” according to a statement and photo released by Mr. Mahdi’s office. He also emphasized Iraq’s efforts to prevent the current tensions between Iran and the United States from sliding into “open war.”

The United States military stirred a media flurry by accidentally releasing a draft letter that seemed to describe imminent plans to withdraw from Iraq. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III, the commander of the United States forces in Iraq, wrote to the Iraqi government that the American troops would be relocated “to prepare for onward movement.”

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” he wrote.

But Defense Department officials played down the significance of the letter. “Here’s the bottom line, this was a mistake,” General Mark A. Milley, President Trump’s top military commander, told reporters at the Pentagon during a hastily called press briefing. “It’s a draft unsigned letter because we are moving forces around.”

“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, told reporters. “There’s been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period.”

Although the Trump administration has said that the United States killed General Suleimani because he was planning imminent attacks against American interests, there were indications Monday that he may have been leading an effort to calm tensions with Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq said that he was supposed to meet with General Suleimani on the morning he was killed, and that he expected him to bring messages from the Iranians that might help to “reach agreements and breakthroughs important for the situation in Iraq and the region.”

In Washington, two top Senate Democrats urged President Trump early Monday to declassify the administration’s formal notification to Congress giving notice of the airstrike that killed General Suleimani.

Such notification of Congress is required by law, and to classify the entirety of such a notification is highly unusual.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a joint statement that it was “critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner.”

And Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, urged Mr. Trump’s critics not to jump to conclusions. “Unfortunately, in this toxic political environment, some of our colleagues rushed to blame our own government before even knowing the facts,” he said.

For its part, Iran simultaneously continued a months-long push against the Trump administration over its demands that Tehran submit to a more restrictive renegotiation of a 2015 accord with the Western powers over its nuclear research. The Trump administration has sought to pressure Iran by devastating its economy with sweeping economic sanctions, which Iranian officials have denounced as economic warfare.

The sanctions set off the cycle of attacks and counterattacks that culminated last week in the killing of General Suleimani. Iran has also responded with carefully calibrated steps away from the deal’s limits on its nuclear program. On Sunday, Iranian officials said that they had now abandoned all restrictions on the enrichment of uranium, though they said they would continue to admit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Amid the emotion of the funeral, some called for vengeance that would remake the region. “Even if we attack all of U.S. bases and even if we kill Trump himself it’s not enough revenge,” Brig. Gen Amir Ali HajiZadeh said at the funeral. “We must totally eliminate all U.S. troops from the region.”

For now, Iranian officials seem to be in no rush to strike back against the United States, possibly enjoying their ability to spread anxiety throughout the West. They seem content to

  • bask in the nationalist surge in their popularity,
  • growing international sympathy and the push to
  • expel the American troops from Iraq.

“I don’t think they want to shift the conversation yet,” said Sanam Vakil, a scholar of Iran at Chatham House, a research center in London.

But for the hard-liners who dominate the Iranian National Security Council, she said, some vigorous retaliation would be the only rational response. “A non-response would appear weak and invite further pressure, creating problems in domestic politics and internationally,” she said.

 

Gibraltar rejects U.S. request to seize Iranian oil tanker

A Gibraltar court rejected a U.S. attempt to seize an Iranian oil tanker on Sunday, clearing the way for the ship to resume its journey in the Mediterranean under the Iranian flag and with a new name.

The Grace 1 supertanker, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, has been anchored off Gibraltar since it was intercepted by the British navy on July 4 on the grounds that it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Authorities in Gibraltar lifted the detention order last week after Britain, which rules the territory, received assurances from Iran that the tanker would not take its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of oil to Syria.

But late Friday, the United States intervened, issuing a warrant for the seizure of the ship and its cargo, claiming it was violating not only U.S. sanctions against Syria but also those against Iran.

The Gibraltar court ruled that the American sanctions on Iran, which were imposed by President Trump after he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal last year, do not apply in the European Union.

The sanctions violations charged in the U.S. warrant “would not constitute offenses had they occurred in Gibraltar,” the government said in a statement. “There are no equivalent sanctions against Iran in Gibraltar, the UK or the rest of the EU.”

Among the charges laid out in the U.S. warrant is that the tanker was facilitating terrorism because of the involvement in Iran’s oil industry of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States. The Gibraltar ruling noted that the E.U. does not regard the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

The court’s rejection of the U.S. request raises new questions over where the tanker will go next and whether the United States will attempt to intervene again, perhaps by forcibly intercepting it. No such action has been proposed, but Iranian media speculated that the U.S. Navy, which maintains several bases in the Mediterranean, might attempt to seize the vessel.

Iran’s navy commander, Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, offered to dispatch the Iranian navy to escort the Adrian Darya 1, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.

The tanker had been set to leave Gibraltar on Friday after the court lifted its detention order, but the captain and five crew members quit, leaving the ship’s owners to recruit replacements.

Photographs posted on social media showed the vessel, painted with its new name and flying the Iranian flag, being readied for departure by men in orange uniforms.

It was unclear whether Iran would release the British tanker seized in the Persian Gulf in apparent retaliation for Britain’s detention of the Grace 1, as the ship was then called.

The Slippery Slope of Complicity

the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.

..  if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.

But why? Is Trumpocracy what Republicans always wanted?

Well, it’s probably what some of them always wanted. And some of them are making a coldblooded calculation that the demise of democracy is worth it if it means lower taxes on the rich and freedom to pollute.

.. They’re not really ideologues so much as careerists, whose instinct is always to go along with the party line. And this instinct has drawn them ever deeper into complicity.

.. once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage.

.. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong

.. the path of least resistance is always to sign on for the next stage of degradation.

“No evidence of collusion” becomes “collusion is no big deal” becomes “collusion is awesome — and let’s send John Brennan to jail.”

.. The party has long been in the habit of rejecting awkward facts and attributing them to conspiracies: it’s not a big jump from claiming that climate change is a giant hoax perpetrated by the entire scientific community to asserting that Trump is the blameless target of a vast deep state conspiracy.

.. as long as they toed the line they can count on “wing nut welfare” — commentator slots on Fox News, appointments at think tanks, and so on.
.. Even now, I don’t think most political commentators have grasped how deep the rot goes.
.. We’re seeing, in real time, what the GOP is really made of.