Q A lot of questions are being asked in Washington and across America about what evidence you had that Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks against American targets. What can you tell us about what you knew prior to ordering the attack?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, number one, I knew the past. His past was horrible. He was a terrorist. He was a — so designated by President Obama, as you know. And he wasn’t even supposed to be outside of his own country; he was. So, right there.
But that’s, in a way, the least of it. We had an attack very recently that he was in charge of, where we had people horribly wounded, one dead. In fact, the number now, as of this morning, I believe is two dead. And that was his. He was traveling with the head of Hezbollah. They weren’t there to discuss a vacation. They weren’t there to go to a nice resort someplace in Baghdad. They were there to discuss bad business.
And we saved a lot of lives by terminating his life. A lot of lives were saved. They were planning something, and you’re going to be hearing about it, or at least various people in Congress are going to be hearing about it tomorrow.
Our Secretary of State covered it very well a little while ago. I saw him. I saw his new conference — Mike. And if you want to mention a couple of things in addition to what I’ve just said. But we had tremendous information. We’ve been following him for a long time. And we followed his path for those three days. And they were not good stops. We didn’t like where he was stopping. They were not good stops. We saved a lot of lives. Mike?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mr. President, I’d only add we had deep intelligence indicating there was active plotting to put American lives at risk. And I’m confident, and I think the President is confident too, that the actions that the President took saved American lives, saved lives of Iraqi Muslims as well. It was the right thing to do. And our Department of Defense did an excellent job executing the mission.
Q And, Mr. President, can —
PRESIDENT TRUMP: And, as you know, he killed at least 608 Americans, but the number is much higher than that. He’s also very much — roadside bombs and all of the horrible explosives that you see, he was a big believer and sent them everywhere. He was somebody that we did ourselves and we did a lot of countries a big favor. And I’ve been — I’ve been hearing from countries. They were extremely happy with what we did. And if you look inside Iran itself, there were plenty of those leaders that were happy because they feared him and didn’t like him, in many cases.
Q Could you also clear up, Mr. President, whether Iranian cultural sites would be on any future target list?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, as I said yesterday, it was very interesting, they’re allowed to kill our people, they’re allowed to maim our people, they’re allowed to blow up everything that we have and there’s nothing that stops them, and we are — according to various laws — supposed to be very careful with their cultural heritage. And you know what? If that’s what the law is, I will — I like to obey the law.
But think of it: They kill our people, they blow up our people, and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I’m okay with it. It’s okay with me.
I will say this: If Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.
All right. Steve?
Q Are there any signs of imminent retaliation from the Iranians? Any indications of imminent —
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, don’t forget: In our case, it was retaliation because they were there first. They killed — look, I don’t have to talk about him. For 18 to 20 years, he was a monster. But just in the very short period of time, two people dead, people badly injured, and then, before that, there were other attacks. And look at what he was planning.
So that’ll be discussed tomorrow morning. Right now, it’s classified. That’ll be discussed tomorrow with Mike Pompeo and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Q And is the U.S. prepared for an Iranian attack?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We’re prepared. We’re totally prepared. And likewise, we’re prepared to attack if we have to, as retribution.
Q Mr. President, Iran’s leaders say that any response to the Soleimani killing would be, quote, “proportionate.” What would the United States do in the event of any Iranian (inaudible)?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: So, again, John, if you look at what’s going on, ours was a — an attack based on what they did. We weren’t the first one out. He killed an American. Now two people are dead from the same attack, and some people very badly wounded. And that was one of his smaller endeavors.
If you look over his past, his past — he’s been called a “monster,” and he was a monster. And he’s no longer a monster; he’s dead. And that’s a good thing for a lot of countries. And he was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people. And we stopped him.