‘This is over the top’: Lindsey Graham and Mick Mulvaney ‘begged’ Trump not to kill Iran’s top general, but 4 days later he did it anyway, according to Woodward’s new book

Donald Trump Lindsey Graham
Donald Trump speaks as Senator Lindsey Graham looks on.
  • Two of President Donald Trump's closest advisers desperately tried to stop him from ordering the military strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, and brought the countries to the brink of war, according to Bob Woodward's upcoming book.
  • South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish US lawmakers, told Trump, "Mr. President, this is over the top." He said that "with the election coming," Trump should temper his response and avoid risking "major war."
  • Graham wasn't the only one concerned. Mick Mulvaney, Trump's chief of staff at the time, made an "urgent request" and "almost begged" Graham to "stop this talk of hitting Soleimani."
  • Four days later, Trump ordered the strike. And despite Graham's reported reservations about the strike, he publicly supported the president's decision.
  • "The intelligence was very strong that Soleimani was orchestrating chaos in Iraq at our expense and throughout the region, the president was informed of these potential attacks, and he acted," Graham told FOX & Friends in January.
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Two of President Donald Trump's top advisers desperately tried to stop him from ordering the assassination of Iran's highest-ranking military official in the days leading up to it, according to the veteran journalist Bob Woodward's upcoming book, "Rage."

Insider obtained an early copy of the book, which is slated for release on September 15.

"I'm thinking of hitting Soleimani," Trump told South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on December 30, Woodward reported. Qassem Soleimani was Iran's top military general at the time, and the leader of its hardline paramilitary force that supports militants that attack US troops. Trump and Graham were were playing golf at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida when Trump floated the idea to Graham.

"Oh boy, that's a giant step!" Graham replied, apparently unnerved by Trump's suggestion, according to the book.

The South Carolina senator warned Trump that if he ordered Soleimani's assassination, he would also have to plan what additional steps to take if Iran escalated the conflict.

"If they retaliate in some way, which they will, you've got to be willing to take out the oil refineries," he said. But he added that if Trump did that, "this will be almost total war!"

"You kill him, new game. You go from playing $10 blackjack to $10,000-a-hand blackjack," Graham cautioned.

"He deserves it," Trump said of Soleimani, according to the book. "We have all these intercepts showing that Soleimani is planning attacks."

Graham pushed back, saying Soleimani has "always been doing that." He added that Trump had to consider his response and what Iran might do in retaliation, especially "with the election coming. That risks major war."

Trump then brought up the Iranian-led missile strikes that had killed an American and the militias that had stormed the American embassy in Iraq. The president said, "We're not going to let them get away with this."

Graham still urged extreme caution, telling Trump, "Mr. President, this is over the top. How about hitting someone a level below Soleimani, which would be much easier for everyone to absorb?"

It was a stunning statement coming from Graham, who is one of the most hawkish members of Congress and frequently urges more US military intervention on foreign soil.

Woodward reported that Graham wasn't the only one who was concerned. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff at the time, also made an "urgent request" to the South Carolina senator.

"You've got to find a way to stop this talk of hitting Soleimani, Mulvaney almost begged," the book said. "Perhaps he'll listen to you."

Four days later, Woodward wrote, Trump ordered the strike.

Despite Graham's reported reservations about the strike, he publicly supported the president's decision. 

"This was a preemptive, defensive strike planned to take out the organizer of attacks yet to come," Graham said during a "Fox & Friends" interview on January 3. "The intelligence was very strong that Soleimani was orchestrating chaos in Iraq at our expense and throughout the region, the President was informed of these potential attacks, and he acted."

The Trump administration has not provided public proof that Soleimani posed an imminent threat to US forces in the region, which was its primary justification for the strike.

Though it's widely agreed Soleimani was a nefarious actor who was responsible for the deaths of US soldiers, Trump's decision to order the drone strike that killed him was highly controversial. It was a move that Trump's predecessors —former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — both avoided, knowing that the conseuqences could be catastrophic. 

The Pentagon included Soleimani's assassination on a list of possible responses to make the other options seem less extreme, the New York Times reported.

The Soleimani strike pushed the US and Iran to the brink of war. Iran retaliated with a missile attack that left dozens of US soldiers seriously injured. Trump initially misled the public and said there were no casualties in the strike.

Iran and the US ultimately backed away from a wider conflict, but tensions remain. Shortly after the strike, Iran essentially abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew the US from in May 2018. 

The Trump administration has continued to push for European allies to embrace its "maximum pressure" campaign, aimed at squeezing Iran into negotiating a more stringent version of the 2015 deal, but has had little to no success in that arena.

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