Biden: No 'benefit of the doubt' for Trump on Soleimani strike

"I don't give him the benefit of the doubt because he's lied so much about virtually everything," Joe Biden said of Trump's rationale for the killing.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Dareh Gregorian

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that President Donald Trump's assertion he ordered a drone strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani to avert an "imminent attack" can't be taken at face value because the commander in chief has "lied so much."

In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, said of Trump, "I don't give him the benefit of the doubt of anything."

He also pushed back on Trump's statement that he ordered the strike that killed Soleimani "to stop a war."

Biden said the strike that killed Soleimani "takes us a heck of a lot closer to war. We're putting 18,000 more troops in the region. Do we have — have they planned ahead of time to make sure they secure all the bases we have and all the areas that Americans are in fact more vulnerable because of proxies of Iraq — of Iran?"

Holt then asked, "Do you give a president, this president, a benefit of the doubt when he says there was intelligence of an imminent attack?"

Biden said he couldn't be sure Trump was telling the truth.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

It "could be true, but I don't give him the benefit of the doubt because he's lied so much about virtually everything," Biden said.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

Trump said in his address to the nation last week that Soleimani's Quds Force "has targeted, injured and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen. The recent attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq — including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad — were carried out at the direction of Soleimani."

Biden said he would not have ruled out going after Soleimani if he were president, but the intelligence "would have to be pretty overwhelming for me to conclude that there was — it was a long-term benefit to us to take him out as opposed to a long-term downside."

He also said he would have coordinated with U.S. allies in the region. Biden noted relations with Iran deteriorated after Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that had been negotiated with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Trump announced the U.S. was abandoning the deal in May 2018. In the wake of the strike that killed Soleimani, Iran announced it would no longer honor its commitment under the deal to limit enrichment of uranium.

"We had a united front relative to Iran until the time he walked away from a treaty that was functioning," Biden said of Trump. "We were together. Now, we're alone."

Biden was also asked about the "optics" of his son Hunter being on the board of a Ukrainian energy company at the time Biden was vice president and overseeing reforms in that country. Last July, Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate the Bidens' activities in a phone call, which led to Trump being impeached by the House.

Biden said that while his son has expressed regret about taking the job, he personally didn't wish he had done anything differently.

"Look, no matter who the nominee is, do you think this president's not going to lie about them? You think this president is not going to make up lies?" Biden said, adding, "the more he's attacked me, the more I have gone up in the polls."

Biden was also asked about a comment made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who remarked in a recent interview that in another country, she and Biden would be in different parties because her positions are far to the left of Biden's moderate approach. The Democratic Party, she told New York magazine, "can be too big of a tent."

Biden disagreed. "This tent is plenty big for both of us," he said.