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Donald Trump’s administration has been a fountain of lies from his first day in office. But the U.S. attack that killed a top Iranian commander promises to turn that fountain into a tsunami.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the drone strike on the Baghdad airport was urgent because intelligence indicated Qassem Soleimani presented “imminent threats to American lives.” But Pompeo was curiously unwilling to supply evidence.

The New York Times reported, “According to one United States official, the new intelligence indicated ‘a normal Monday in the Middle East’ — Dec. 30 — and General Soleimani’s travels amounted to ‘business as usual.'” The Washington Post divulged that Pompeo had been pressing Trump to kill Soleimani for months.

Why should anyone believe anything the secretary of state says? He was deliberately misleading Sunday when he scoffed at the idea that Trump might order the destruction of Iranian cultural sites — something the president had threatened before and reiterated even after Pompeo denied it.

Trump himself has been a paragon of dishonesty on Iran, even more than on most subjects. He pulled out of the nuclear deal, which he falsely said Iran was violating. Under the agreement, he said, Iran would “free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons” after seven years. In fact, it stipulated “that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

He tweeted that Barack Obama “gave Iran 150 Billion Dollars and got nothing.” Obama agreed to unfreeze Iran’s own assets, which amounted to a fraction of that amount, in exchange for the effective dismantling of its nuclear program.

Americans should know by now that when our leaders take us into wars, they will do it on the basis of disinformation. President Lyndon Johnson got the authority to escalate in Vietnam by exploiting a minor 1964 naval incident in the Tonkin Gulf to accuse North Vietnam of “open aggression on the high seas” — which was false.

Johnson campaigned that year on a promise not to “send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” In 1965, he did exactly that. His successor, Richard Nixon, expanded the war with a lengthy bombing campaign in neighboring Cambodia, undertaken in secrecy.

Like Johnson and Nixon, this president and his subordinates believe that deceit is the best way to gain support for military action. Mike Pence said Soleimani’s killing was justified because his Quds Force assisted al-Qaida in the 9/11 attacks — a conclusion firmly rejected by the 9/11 Commission, appointed by George W. Bush.

But Pence took a lesson from the Bush administration, which justified the Iraq War on the spurious claim that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Repetition of the charge soon convinced most Americans, though Bush himself later had to admit it was baseless.

Obama felt no compulsion to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan, which he promised to end in his first 16 months but never did. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction quoted an Obama National Security Council official on the administration’s repeated claims of progress: “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Obama justified his intervention in the Libyan civil war as a way to prevent the slaughter of civilians, but eventually — without saying so — expanded the mission to regime change.

During World War I, the leftist writer Randolph Bourne argued that “war is the health of the state.” What has become clear since then is that war depends on deception – about the reasons for committing to combat, the reasons for continuing to fight when it goes badly and the reasons the effort was necessary despite its ultimate failure.

Politicians realize that if citizens are to be mobilized in support of wars of choice, they must be fed a diet of lies. Even that may not work: Last summer, a Gallup Poll found that only 18 percent of Americans favored military action against Iran. A HuffPost/YouGov survey found that only 43 percent approved of the strike against Soleimani.

But if public support doesn’t materialize, we can be sure the administration will concoct more fictions. There is a long history of presidential mendacity when it comes to matters of war. No one is better suited to uphold that tradition than Trump.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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