Rand Paul: Bolton is a 'malign influence'

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.), a close ally of President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE who has supported the president’s desire to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East, says national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right Ex-Trump adviser Bolton defends Milley: 'His patriotism is unquestioned' MORE is a “malign influence.”

Paul, who believes the U.S. should reduce its military presence in Syria and Afghanistan, says he is alarmed by the recent mobilization of U.S. combat troops to counter what some Trump officials see as a rising threat posed by Iran.

Asked about Bolton’s role in the recent deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and an Air Force bomber task force, Paul said, “I fear that he’s a malignancy, a malignant influence on the administration."

Paul believes that Bolton is in a camp of hawks who may be pushing Trump in the direction of war.

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The New York Times reported Monday that acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanSenators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon MORE presented a military plan to Trump at a meeting last week calling for the deployment of 120,000 troops to the Middle East, at Bolton's request.

“My concern is that there are people that will overreact to this intelligence and somehow get us involved in a military conflict from which there’s no turning back,” Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday.

He cited another Times report that the White House escalated its warnings about a potential attack from Iran or Iranian-backed forces based on photographs of missiles being transported to boats in the Persian Gulf.

“The question is that’s being done in reaction to our increased presence there and our naming all of the Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, is this a reaction to our policy or is it simply an aggressive policy saying we’re going to start war,” Paul added. “Iran knows you don’t start a war with the United States.” 

Trump said Thursday that he hopes the U.S. does not go to war with Iran.

Paul told reporters in a conference call later Thursday that he’s worried that the military buildup could increase the chances of a confrontation that spirals out of control.

“I think the most important thing is to put the administration on notice that they do not have congressional permission to go to war with Iran and we need to make sure we’re not involved in anything that is provocative enough to encourage a skirmish that leads to a bigger war,” he said. 

Paul added that the U.S. should defend its troops and diplomatic facilities and send a clear signal to Iran to expect retaliation if it attacks U.S. interests.

But he added, “provocation can occur on both sides and we need to be wary.”