State: 2001, 2002 war authorizations don't apply to Iran except 'to defend US or partner forces'

State: 2001, 2002 war authorizations don't apply to Iran except 'to defend US or partner forces'
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The State Department told lawmakers Friday that, with few exceptions, the Trump administration does not believe the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations apply to Iran.

“The administration has not, to date, interpreted either AUMF [authorization for the use of military force] as authorization for military force against Iran, except as may be necessary to defend U.S. or partner forces engaged in counterterrorism operations or operations to establish a stable, democratic Iraq,” Mary Elizabeth Taylor, assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs, wrote in a letter Friday.

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Taylor’s letter is in response to one sent Wednesday by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike Pompeo to testify on Iran in February MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchFather of Parkland shooting victim calls on Congress to take action Florida 'red flag' law has removed hundreds of guns: report The Hill's Campaign Report: Rising Klobuchar, Buttigieg face test in diverse states MORE (D-Fla.), the chairman of the subcommittee with oversight of the Middle East.

Engel and Deutch demanded the State Department’s legal adviser provide by Friday the department’s legal analysis on whether the 2001 or 2002 AUMF are applicable to military action against Iran.

In a statement Friday, Engel and Deutch pledged to push for more information, saying the exception laid out in the letter is “a loophole wide enough to drive a tank through.”

“The administration claims that the president could use these authorizations to attack Iran in defense of any third party he designates as a partner,” they said. “These war authorizations have already been stretched farther than Congress ever intended, and we reject this attempt to stretch them further."

“To repeat what we said in our letter, Congress has not authorized the use of force against Iran under any legal theory,” they added. “We are also concerned that the administration opened the door to reinterpreting its position in the future.”

U.S.-Iran tensions have skyrocketed in recent weeks to the point where President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' Sanders releases list of how to pay for his proposals MORE was on the verge of striking Iran last week after it shot down a U.S. drone. Trump said he called the strike off at the last minute because the estimated 150-person death toll was not proportional.

Friday’s State Department response, released by the Foreign Affairs Committee, is a three-paragraph letter insisting the goal of the administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign is to bring Iran to the negotiating table.

“As Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo has noted, the administration’s goal is to find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s activities, not to engage in conflict with Iran,” Taylor wrote. “President Trump has expressed the U.S. willingness to negotiate with Iran. No one should be uncertain about the United States’ desire for peace or a readiness to normalize relations in the event the United States and Iran reach a comprehensive deal.”

The 2001 AUMF was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to authorize military action against al Qaeda and other perpetrators of the attacks. An AUMF was also passed in 2002 to authorize the Iraq War.

Publicly and, lawmakers say, privately, administration officials have asserted a link between Iran and al Qaeda. As such, Democrats fear the Trump administration is building a case to use the 2001 AUMF for military action against Iran.

Trump told The Hill on Monday he does not believe he needs congressional authorization to strike Iran.

The letter was released as the Senate is on track to reject a Democratic attempt to constrain Trump's ability to strike Iran. The Senate is voting Friday on an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would block funding for military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

House lawmakers, including Trump ally Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzBottom Line Graham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' MORE (R-Fla.), introduced a similar amendment for the House’s version of the defense bill. The House amendment is expected to pass when the chamber takes up the bill in July.