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Meadows defends Trump's description of Beirut explosion as an 'attack'
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Wednesday defended President Trump's description of a massive explosion a day earlier in the capital of Lebanon as an "attack" despite no indication yet from U.S. and Lebanese officials that was the case.
Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he was briefed by generals who felt the explosion at a major port in Beirut was an "attack" and "a bomb of some kind."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that "most believe" it was an accident, while the Lebanese government has said the explosion was likely caused by highly explosive material being stored at the port.
Meadows would not say himself if he believed the explosion, which has killed more than 100 people, was the result of a deliberate attack. But he defended Trump's interpretation, saying it was based on an initial briefing.
"I can tell you from Secretary Esper's standpoint, he doesn't know," Meadows told CNN. "I had a meeting with him earlier today. Intelligence is not something we talk about. But it's also developing."
"I can tell you the initial report was exactly what the president shared with all of you. I happen to know that he was briefed on that. The initial reports looked at an explosion," he added. "We still have not totally ruled that out."
"Without sharing anything classified, I've been able to see a lot of what has taken place there. We'll continue to evaluate that," Meadows continued. "Obviously, there's no group that has claimed any responsibility but what the president shared with the American people is what he was briefed on."
The chief of staff said he was hopeful that the explosion was "just a tragic accident." But he added that Trump's reference to an attack was "not speculation on his part."
Video of the massive blast went viral on social media. A giant plume of smoke was visible before an explosion that overturned cars, blew out windows, collapsed balconies and roofs, and injured thousands of people.
Esper said he had spoken to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier on Wednesday about offering humanitarian assistance to the country and that the administration had reached out to the Lebanese government.
"We're positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can - humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it - to assist the people of Lebanon," he added.
Lebanon is facing a crippling economic crisis in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 5,000 people there.