Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) had a cow last night after sitting for the intelligence briefing about the leadup to President Trump’s order to kill the terrorist Soleimani. He said that it was the worst briefing he had heard in his eight years in the Senate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was with Lee and agreed, Sen Joni Ernst (R-IA) sat in the same briefing and she believes it was a good briefing and explained why Lee and Paul couldn’t get everything they wanted.
On Thursday morning she was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt, telling him briefing is that it was done quite well. I was very pleased with the information that we were presented. And of course, the briefers cannot tell us who gave them what information, and from where. You know, we certainly can’t identify sources out there. But it was very clear that they established a pattern of bad behavior coming from General Soleimani, and they indicated then that the intelligence they had gathered showed that he was going to continue escalating and killing Americans.
A combat veteran who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa National Guard, Senator Ernst discussed the full range America-Iran issues. The audio and transcript follow.
Hugh Hewitt: You’ve heard Admiral James Stavridis this morning. You’ve heard General David Deptula, General Deptula saying the outcome of the last few days “could not be better”. Deterrence is restored, according to Stavridis. And now, we talk to the political actors, including Senator Joni Ernst, who is herself a warrior in the United States Army. Senator Ernst, welcome, it’s great to have you back.
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Sen. Ernst: Gosh, thank you. I am glad to be here and excited to talk about this topic today.
Hugh Hewitt: What did you make of the briefing yesterday? Two of your colleagues did not like it, but of course, Senators Lee and Paul are kind of outliers. They’re good Republicans, but they’re outliers when it comes to national security. What did you make of the briefing that you received?
Sen. Ernst: Well, goodness, they are good friends, and I do enjoy working with them on a number of different issues. And I think everybody walked out of the briefing with different ideas. But Joni Ernst’s opinion of the briefing is that it was done quite well. I was very pleased with the information that we were presented. And of course, the briefers cannot tell us who gave them what information, and from where. You know, we certainly can’t identify sources out there. But it was very clear that they established a pattern of bad behavior coming from General Soleimani, and they indicated then that the intelligence they had gathered showed that he was going to continue escalating and killing Americans. And so without getting into the details, I felt that it was a very good briefing. It was very well done, and I feel very, very confident in the President’s actions and where we’re headed from here now looking into the future with Iran.
Hugh Hewitt: Now Senator Ernst, I’ve been following this very closely for a week. And the New York Times this morning has a story that begins with the revelation that American spy agencies at 2pm on Tuesday told the White House in a squawk that there was incoming attack. I have long believed that we have a source within the mullahs or the IRGC that does not like Khamenei or Soleimani. I’ve long believed that, because we’ve had a lot of information. I don’t know which mullah it is. I don’t know how many generals are on our team. Do you believe that there are people within the regime, there are clearly people within Iran, they’ve given up their lives, a thousand of them in the last few weeks, murdered by the regime in Iran, not Iraq. Those people have been killed in Iraq as well. But do you believe there are people within the regime who do not support Khamenei and are glad that Soleimani are dead?
Sen. Ernst: Well, and again, my belief, yes. My belief, yes. Iran could be so much further advanced. They could be interacting and engaging in much more trade around the globe. I think that there are people within their own communities that understand that. But they have been held back. So that is Joni Ernst’s belief as well.
Hugh Hewitt: Now do you believe that the JCPOA is dead, dead, dead, because I do not understand why one European country would continue to pay attention to that which is clearly by events and by the actions of Iran irrelevant to their conduct abroad?
Sen. Ernst: It is absolutely irrelevant. And I do believe we will be able to get Iran back to the table. I certainly hope that that is true, because the JCPOA, it really never was a binding agreement. Iran continued to act badly to their neighbors. They continued to, we believe they continued to develop nuclear capabilities, and it certainly was not, it wasn’t enforceable. So we have got to get Iran back to the table. We have got to stop them from acquiring those nuclear capabilities, and the President stated quite clearly he is not going to allow Iran to become a nuclear power.
Hugh Hewitt: Let me play for you if I can three quotes, Senator Ernst, two from your colleagues, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham, one from the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Here’s Senator Cotton on Fox News last night, cut 31.
Sen. Cotton: As I’ve said for years, if Iran wanted to start a fight, the United States would finish a fight. That’s exactly what President Trump has done over these last couple of weeks. His red line was the same going back to last summer. Do not harm an American. And when Iranian proxies wounded our soldiers and killed one of their interpreters, he struck back in a measured way against that proxy force. And then Qasem Soleimani and their proxies tried to attack our embassy in Baghdad, and Qasem Soleimani learned the hard way that President Trump means what he says.
Hugh Hewitt: Here is Lindsey Graham
Sen. Graham: Soleimani was up to no good. He was planning another attack. A third grader could figure that out last night. I always believed that they were trying to kill Americans. If you lob missiles inside an airbase, what’s the intended consequence? To kill people inside the airbase. We’re lucky. We moved our people out. We had four hours’ notice. But I said last night, I think it’s more good fortune than it was lack of intent. But here’s the good news. The President made a very bold decision today to allow things to calm down. This speech will be talked about long after his second term. This is on par with Tear Down This Wall, Mr. Gorbachev. This is resetting the relationship between the world and Iran, just not the United States. The President said there’s an evil empire in Iran that’s bent on destroying the world, killing the people in Israel and coming after us, and I will no longer tolerate it. So this is on par with Reagan’s Tear Down This Wall speech.
Hugh Hewitt: And here is Prime Minister Netanyahu, cut 27.
Netanyahu: President Trump should be congratulated for acting swiftly, boldly, and resolutely against this terrorist-in-chief…(applause) for acting against this terrorist-in-chief, who was the architect and driver of Iran’s campaign of carnage and terror throughout the Middle East, and throughout the world.
Senator Ernst, your reaction to your two colleagues and the Prime Minister?
Sen. Ernst: I think they are spot on. And Senator Cotton, Tom, when he stated and said that the President had drawn that red line, and you know, Iran, if they want to start a fight, then we will end the fight, he is absolutely correct. I don’t know that another country would want an all-out war with the United States. And that’s not what we want. I don’t think that’s what Iran wants. Senator Graham has been all over this. You know, Lindsey has worked diligently with the President as we’ve moved through these last several weeks. But again, the President, he had that red line. He communicated that red line quite clearly to Iran. They crossed the red line, and he acted, he did act swiftly. He acted swiftly, it was resolutely, and deterrence has been restored. They now know they can’t cross that line.
Hugh Hewitt: Now Senator, since you’re a soldier, you’re a soldier, and there are a few of them in the United States Congress. What were you thinking during those hours when Iran had launched their missiles, but before they struck without effect?
Sen. Ernst: Well, I was very concerned, first and foremost, with the American lives that were on the ground there. I was very, very concerned that there would be notifications going to families. And I’ve had to make one of those notifications before, and it is, it is the worst experience, I think, anybody could ever have in their life. So that was my first thought, just sending prayers, you know, please, God, watch out for our men and women. You know, they are there to protect us. Second thing is that now, what is our response going to be? After those battle damage assessments are done, of course, taking stock in the human cost, taking stock in what equipment, and what infrastructure has been lost, after going through that BDA exercise, and we have to be able to determine what are the next steps moving forward? It does have to be in equal strength going back at Iran, and amazingly, nobody was hurt. Not a single Iraqi, not a single American. So knowing that, I think the response to deescalate is very good. I think we have to remain vigilant, though, with Iran. We can’t just believe that this is the end of it. So you know, perhaps they will continue with asymmetrical warfare, which is something that they are very good at. But folks, I’ll just tell you that we are better. So we’re going to keep our eye on Iran, but I think the President’s call to deescalate was absolutely the right thing to do, and then continue with that maximum pressure campaign on Iran, hurt them economically, bring them back to the table. That’s what the President intends to do, and I fully support him on that.
Hugh Hewitt: Now Senator, since I fully support deescalating, because I think it does give our allies within the regime and the people of Iran a chance to asses the idiocy of this Khamenei, and whether or not the IRGC should be allowed to continue to pilfer the wealth of that country and isolate it. During the attack itself, I sent a very concise message to my friends in the administration in a position to have some influence – shock and awe, shock and awe, refineries, grids, bunker busters, sink their navy, blind them, then do it again. They are firing missiles at our troops. I think I’m kind of representative of a civilian. What do you think of that? If they kill our people, I want to respond massively.
Sen. Ernst: Yes, you know, it does need to be somewhat of an equal response. We don’t want to go in, obviously, and kill a bunch of innocent civilians.
Hugh Hewitt: Agreed.
Sen. Ernst: …which of course, we have the technology to target very precisely, and that’s what the President had done in the past, and I do anticipate that if Iran continues down that path, that we can respond in a way where we are targeting terrorists, we are targeting those that have killed Americans. But yes, it needs to be swift, decisive, and very, very conclusive. There needs to be no doubt in Iran, in their leaders’ minds that America will strike back. We have had many previous administrations that allowed Iran to walk all over us. They walked all over us. And this President will not allow that to happen. He will not allow the bloodshed of Americans to go unanswered.
Hugh Hewitt: On that note, Senator Ernst, thank you. Very quick question about impeachment. Does the seriousness of the last week, as it does for me, seem to you to cast into absurd relief the idiocy of holding onto articles of impeachment? In other words, we have Americans whose lives are on the line, and we have the House of Representatives playing games with the presidency. Does that not sink in with your colleagues across the aisle?
Sen. Ernst: I don’t know that it does, Hugh, and I’m sorry to say that. I think this whole exercise has been very political. And some of the statements that were coming out of my colleagues’ mouths the other day during the briefing, I was just in shock. I was just in shock. There is so much hatred for this President, it just simply doesn’t matter. You know, he could do a miracle act, and they wouldn’t acknowledge it. So I don’t think the seriousness of what has gone on over the past number of days and week has sunk into them on how absurd this process of impeachment is at this point in time.
Hugh Hewitt: Well, I do believe it’s sinking in Iowa and across the United States except in the hard left of the progressive of the weird part of the Democratic party.
Sen. Ernst: Correct.
Hugh Hewitt: Senator Ernst, keep serving, and I appreciate your service. Thank you. It’s great to have a warrior in the Senate, so you can take Mike Lee aside and tell him why we don’t exactly want to reveal methods and sources, sources and methods. Thank you, Senator.