Rand Paul: Bolton is a 'malign influence'

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Graham on impeachment trial: 'End this crap as quickly as possible' MORE (R-Ky.), a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE who has supported the president’s desire to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East, says national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr 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 ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall 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.”