Congressman Talks Classified Briefing About Downing Of U.S. Drone NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., about a Thursday meeting at the White House regarding the downing of a U.S. drone.

Congressman Talks Classified Briefing About Downing Of U.S. Drone

Congressman Talks Classified Briefing About Downing Of U.S. Drone

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NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., about a Thursday meeting at the White House regarding the downing of a U.S. drone.

Congressman Talks Classified Briefing About Downing Of U.S. Drone

Audio will be available later today.


Late this afternoon, congressional leaders from both parties met with President Trump at the White House and were given a classified briefing about the downing of the U.S. drone. Congressman Adam Smith is a Democrat from Washington state who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, and he was at that meeting. Thank you for joining us.

ADAM SMITH: Thank you for having me, appreciate the chance.

SHAPIRO: I realize there was classified information at this briefing, but what can you tell us about what you learned this afternoon?

SMITH: Well, a couple things. The biggest points that the administration wanted to drive home was that they have conclusive evidence that the Iranian military shot down our drone that was flying in international waters. And they made a very convincing case that that is what happened. And then, second, that they are trying to figure out, you know, what the appropriate response is. And that's where congressional members weighed in. You know, we're very concerned about this escalating. We want to make sure that however they handle this, they do it in a way that minimizes the risk of that expanded conflict. And then, you know, a lot of discussion at that point was, OK, we've got this maximum-pressure campaign on Iran. But most of our, you know, folks tell us Iran perceives as an existential threat. And so the way Iran is responding, it's not terribly surprising. What's our plan? And, you know, the president insists the plan is to get Iran to the negotiating table and cut a deal.

SHAPIRO: So you, a Democrat, were persuaded by the administration's argument that the drone was shot down over international waters, not Iranian space, as Iran says. As you were urging caution and trying to avoid conflict with Iran, did the administration seem receptive to that message?

SMITH: Actually, they did, which kind of surprised me. You know, I worry a little bit about what the national security adviser, Mr. Bolton's opinion is on this. But the president I don't think wants an armed conflict with Iran. The thing that I'm worried about is that you ramp up the pressure on Iran and the regime feels threatened - and their economy is in bad shape because of the sanctions. There's huge impacts with the IRGC being put on the terrorist list.

SHAPIRO: The Revolutionary Guard, yeah.

SMITH: Right - that, you know, Iran may lash out, you know, because they think they have to. So I think the president is trying to drive them to the negotiating table. I just hope that that happens sooner rather than later.

SHAPIRO: So is it your sense that the White House has not decided how it plans to respond to this, it's still making up its mind?

SMITH: I don't know for sure. But I would say - forgive me - based on the conversation, that yes, that they have a series of options which they did not lay out for us. And they're trying to figure out - they're trying to calculate what the right response is in terms, with the overarching goal being to calm the conflict down, and like I said, to drive them to the negotiating table. Now, that's a difficult calculus. You know, I don't agree with the presidential decision to pull out of the Iran deal.

That's the other thing the president really emphasized is, you know, a big part of this is to make sure that Iran doesn't build a nuclear weapon. I would have thought that the best way to do that would be not to have pulled out of the agreement where they said they wouldn't. Now, as you know, the Republicans and the president have all kinds of arguments about why the Iran deal wasn't going to stop them. But I don't agree with their assessment. I thought that deal was pretty good, and pulling out of it makes it more likely that Iran is going to pursue a nuclear weapon, not less.

SHAPIRO: Now, congressional Democrats have warned the president that the White House needs congressional authorization if it intends to launch any military action against Iran. Do you think the president is receiving that message?

SMITH: Well, this is a difficult issue. I'm going to get myself in trouble here. But every president that I've dealt with has felt like they have the right to use the military the way they want to with or without congressional approval. And I don't think this president is any different. I will remind your audience that, you know, in Congress, we voted against the military action in Kosovo, and Bill Clinton did it anyway. Barack Obama went into Libya without congressional approval. So this is an ongoing battle that the legislative branch needs to get greater control of military action.

But in responding to the drone attack, I don't think the White House feels like there's any question that they have the right to that. Anything beyond that, it's a little bit more difficult in terms of their justification, but certainly not impossible. Now, all of the congressional leaders there, at least the Democrats, said, you know, we'd like you to come to Congress if you do anything. We're pushing that point. But I don't imagine this administration is going to be any more responsive to that than any of the previous ones.

SHAPIRO: That's Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, after this afternoon's meeting at the White House. Thank you very much for joining us today.

SMITH: Appreciate the chance. Thank you.

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