WASHINGTON - Sen. Mike Lee said Sunday that he did not fault President Donald Trump for the intelligence briefing on Iran last week, which he described as "insulting and demeaning," but rather the people who gave the briefing and Congress for ceding its authority on military matters.
During an interview on CBS News "Face the Nation," the Utah Republican said "an adequate amount of information was not shared" with Congress about the decision to kill top Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike.
And Lee said administration officials who briefed Congress members on the intelligence behind the decision "were not helpful" and "didn't reflect the president's great restraint" regarding Iran.
The meeting included Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
After that briefing, Trump told Fox News that one reason Soleimani posed an imminent threat was that he was planning an attack on four U.S. embassies. Lee said that interview was the first he had heard of the plot.
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"I have great respect for President Trump for how he's handled this situation and how he's handled other situations involving his immense power as commander in chief," Lee said. "I believe more than any other president in my lifetime, President Trump has shown restraint in the way he's exercised that power."
Lee said though he was not happy to first learn of the purported plot on television, "the problem there is not with the president."
"The problem is with those who were briefing us," he said. Lee believed the briefers "would have done a different job under the light of day had television cameras been there than they did in private" where their "boss couldn't see what they were saying."
Esper defended the briefing Sunday on ABC News "This Week," saying "for every member that didn't like the brief, there's members that thought it was the greatest brief ever."
"I understand the frustration of the broader members of Congress," who could not see the full intelligence behind the decision to kill Soleimani, Esper said, but making it available to everyone would jeopardize sources and methods.
Lee said the real target of his ire was Congress.
"Look, my grievance here is not with the president of the United States. He's exercised his power with great restraint and respect for the Constitution," Lee said. "It's not even really as much with the briefers, even though I didn't love the briefing the other day, as it is with Congress. Congress is the problem."
Lee plans to vote in favor of a resolution first introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., which would call for Trump to get congressional approval before taking further military action against Iran.
"We have to remember that this isn't just about this president or this war. This is about the future question of what any president can do to get us into any war," Lee said. "Over many decades, Congresses and White Houses of every conceivable partisan combination have put us down this path where it's very easy for members of Congress to wash their hands of it.
"We have created this problem," he said.
Like Lee, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is from the GOP's libertarian wing and was unsatisfied with last week's intelligence briefing. Paul also plans to vote for Kaine's war powers resolution.
Paul said he, too, was pleased with Trump's "restraint" regarding the use of military force, but he said "presidents of both parties have been trying to usurp the authority" of Congress to declare war.
"I'm willing to stand up even against a president of my party, because we need to stand up and take back the power," Paul said. "We also need to debate whether or not we're going to keep sending kids forever to Afghanistan and Iraq."
On Saturday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., repeated his belief in an interview with Fox News that the push to limit Trump's war powers "is emboldening the enemy."
"I like them both," Graham said when asked about Lee and Paul's position. "But all I can tell you is that they're so wrong."
"Their foreign policy is more like Bernie Sanders, less like Ronald Reagan, less like Donald Trump," Graham said. "They are libertarians. I am not. I am a Ronald Reagan; I'm a Donald Trump; I'm a George W. Bush Republican."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Lee, Rand Paul explain why Iran intelligence briefing upset them