Congress Demands Iran Briefing From White House as Tensions Rise

(Bloomberg) -- Members of Congress are seeking answers from the Trump administration on U.S. plans to respond to escalating tensions with Iran, demanding more information about fast-moving developments in the Middle East.

U.S. officials will meet Thursday with congressional leaders from both parties in both chambers, including heads of both intelligence committees, to discuss the Middle East, according to a person familiar with the plans. There will be a larger briefing for all U.S. House members next week, which will include Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, according to another person.

Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rejected this timeline for information and warned that uninformed decisions could lead to conflict like the U.S.’s military involvement in Iraq in the last decade, which was justified with faulty intelligence.

“Things are happening at warp speed here,” Menendez said. “We don’t need another Iraq weapons of mass destruction moment, that we’re led into things on false information, unverifiable, untested. So I am alarmed that we cannot even get the basic briefings in a timely manner.”

Policymakers’ scramble for information comes as the U.S. ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq, citing an “increased threat stream” in the region. Trump administration officials this week are warning of rising threats to Americans from forces backed by neighboring Iran and are deploying warships and B-52 bombers to the Gulf.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there is an “alarming lack of clarity” about the strategy in Iran.

“Any potential increase in our military presence in the Middle East should require consultation with Congress and anything beyond that would require this body to act,” Schumer said Wednesday on the Senate Floor. “President Trump, what is your strategy? Where are you headed and why aren’t you talking to Congress about it?”

Utah GOP Senator Mitt Romney said the solution to resolve the tensions is to “deter” Iran’s activity and threats.

"The president made it very clear when he was campaigning that he thought the worst foreign policy mistake we’ve made ever perhaps was going into Iraq," Romney said. "There’s no appetite for going into war in the Middle East.”

Senators leaving a Wednesday meeting with senior U.S. intelligence officials -- previously scheduled to discuss next year’s defense funding -- expressed concern about misinformation that could lead to miscalculation. CIA Director Gina Haspel had been expected to be at the briefing but had to go to the White House instead, said GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, called for a classified briefing for the full Senate on Iran “as soon as possible.”

“We have to know what’s going on and we don’t know the details” about plans in Iran, Reed said.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said, “The administration is engaged in a series of blind escalations without any endgame.”

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