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Menendez on Iran intelligence: ‘The last thing we need is another weapons of mass destruction moment’

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the Trump administration Tuesday to release the intelligence behind last week’s Iran strike so that the American people can decide whether the provocative action was justified.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, is pushing for the declassification of President Donald Trump’s formal notification to Congress over the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which has sparked a dangerous escalation between the two countries. Several sources have told CNN that the notification was brief, contained few operational details and essentially laid out the President’s authorities to carry out the strike. That lack of detail is what has fueled questions about why it was classified to begin with, and administration officials have repeatedly publicly declined to provide the evidence behind the strike.

“I think the American people need to know the essence of what that says so that they can make their independent judgment,” Menendez told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” Tuesday. “The last thing we need is another weapons of mass destruction moment in American history, and I haven’t seen anything that ultimately indicates that killing Qasem Soleimani at this point in time stopped an imminent threat and/or made America more secure without the planning for the aftermath of this.”

Menendez was referring to the faulty intelligence cited by President George W. Bush’s administration that led to war in Iraq on the grounds that the country was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that ultimately were never found.

The so-called “Gang of Eight” — a group of top congressional leaders who are generally privy to sensitive information that the rest of Congress is not always briefed on — are expected to receive an Iran briefing Tuesday afternoon. The Trump administration will then brief House and Senate lawmakers behind closed doors on Wednesday, four sources familiar with the plans have told CNN.

Acknowledging on Tuesday that he hasn’t yet been briefed on the intelligence, Menendez said he hasn’t seen any evidence that indicates that the killing of Soleimani prevented an “imminent” threat, as Trump administration officials have said, but he intends to press for more information during Wednesday’s all-members classified briefing.

The immediacy of the threat “has to be defined for Congress so that we understand why the President took this action,” Menendez said.

He told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” on Tuesday that “if the threat that supposedly existed is totally eliminated by getting rid of Soleimani, then it may have been a legitimate attempt by the President.”