clock menu more-arrow no yes

Did impeachment weigh on Trump’s Soleimani decision? Maybe.

Trump reportedly spoke to associates about feeling pressure from Republican lawmakers ahead of his Senate impeachment trial.

President Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, on January 9, 2020.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

It looks like President Donald Trump may have considered his impeachment prospects when making the decision to kill Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani last week. If that’s the case, then the Trump-ordered strike wasn’t solely about protecting Americans from an imminent threat — it was also partially about saving his presidency.

The administration has made a slapdash case for why it chose to assassinate Soleimani, but the main arguments have been that he was planning to attack Americans within days, and that the US would always respond forcefully after US citizens were killed. In December, an Iranian-backed militia killed an American contractor in Iraq.

But the Wall Street Journal on Thursday night included an eye-popping tidbit in its story about how Trump came to green-light the Soleimani operation: “Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.”

In other words, the president felt the need to shore up support from some unnamed Republican lawmakers ahead of his imminent Senate impeachment trial.

It’s important to note that the above passage is just a short paragraph in a much longer piece about the inner workings of the Trump administration’s Soleimani discussions. And so far there is no other evidence to suggest that Trump didn’t give the order mainly to deter Iran from threatening Americans, although it’s unclear just how “imminent” that threat truly was.

But if Trump did consider impeachment when opting to kill the Iranian general — even if for a moment — then this is quite the scandal. It would mean the president didn’t just have the interests of the nation or the world in mind when bringing the US and Iran to the brink of war, but also his own personal political interests.

More reporting is needed to see just how much impeachment weighed on Trump’s mind when he gave the order. At a minimum, though, the Wall Street Journal’s reporting calls into question the legality of Trump’s Soleimani strike and the true intention behind it. And at worst, Trump’s decision to kill a foreign leader — as much as he may have deserved his fate — partly for political gain, is arguably impeachable on its own.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.