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Trump privately told donors new details about Soleimani airstrike at Mar-a-Lago fundraiser

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/19/2020 Colby Itkowitz, David Fahrenthold

President Trump delivered a dramatic account of the airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, joked that he doesn’t care if construction projects kill all the rattlesnakes and noted his indifference to the budget during a private dinner with deep-pocketed donors Friday night at Mar-a-Lago, according to audio files obtained by The Washington Post.

Trump, his tone subdued and conversational, explained his motivation for attacking Soleimani and recounted listening to an anonymous military official countdown to the Jan. 3 strike.

The president said nothing about an “imminent attack” on U.S. interests or threats to four U.S. embassies as he previously has to justify the unilateral military strike that escalated tensions in the region and opened debate on presidential war powers. 

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Instead, he spoke broadly about Soleimani as “the father of the roadside bomb” responsible for “every young, beautiful man or woman who you see walking around with no legs, no arms.” Trump said he heard about two weeks ago that the United States had Soleimani under surveillance and he was “talking about bad stuff.”

“He was saying bad things about our country, like we’re going to attack, we’re going to kill your people. I said, ‘Listen, how much of this s**t do we have to listen to, right?’ ” Trump said to applause from the donor crowd.

Trump went on to describe those final minutes before the strike, watching and listening from the Situation Room.

“ ‘Sir, they have two minutes and 11 seconds.’ No emotion. ‘Two minutes and 11 seconds to live, sir. They’re in the car, they’re in an armored vehicle. Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir. Thirty seconds. Ten, 9, 8 . . . ’ Then all of a sudden, boom.”

The official on the line told the president that Soleimani and the Iraqi military leader he was meeting with were “gone” and then hung up, according to Trump.

“I said, ‘Where is this guy?’ ” Trump said. “That was the last I heard from him.”

While the dramatic description of Trump’s experience watching the strike is new, Trump has spoken at rallies and on Twitter about the Soleimani attack as he hones his reelection talking points on his capability as commander in chief.

In a separate audio clip, Trump is heard boasting about increasing the defense budget by $2.5 trillion a massive sum he may have gotten to by adding several years’ budgets; the Pentagon budget for fiscal 2020 is $738 billion. To those who criticized his spending and the growing national debt, Trump said: “Who the hell cares about the budget? We’re going to have a country.”

For most of President Barack Obama’s time in office, Republicans seemed to care very much about the budget, making fears around the national debt and deficit their top talking point. They’ve backed off those concerns under Trump.

The audio files came in four short segments, and each cuts off mid-sentence or midpoint. CNN, which also obtained the files, first reported on Trump’s fundraiser remarks.

In the 40-second clip about the military budget, Trump said, “It’s been an incredible period of time and that’s despite the witch hunt,” before the audio cuts out.

Donald Trump et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie: President Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk toward Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Friday in Maryland on their way to Florida. © Susan Walsh/AP President Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk toward Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Friday in Maryland on their way to Florida. In another short file, Trump laments the complicated process to build infrastructure, mocking environmental concerns, specifically mentioning turtle and rattlesnake nesting.

“As far as I’m concerned, you can kill those rattlesnakes. I’ll give you a little secret. As many as we kill, they’ll be here long after us. The rattlesnake. You can kill every son of a b***hin’ rattlesnake,” he said.

Then Trump segues to, “I’m not a big person who believes in sharks too much,” before the audio file ends.

Trump is famously terrified of sharks. He has tweeted about his disdain for them, and Stormy Daniels, who allegedly had an affair with Trump, said he was obsessed with sharks and once told her , “I hope all the sharks die.”


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