Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense & National Security — Afghanistan concerns center stage with G-20 US Army investigating raising of Confederate flag at base in Germany Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon officials get grilling from House MORE said in an interview that aired late Saturday that officials still don’t know what caused a massive explosion in Beirut that killed more than 100 people and injured thousands more, adding that suggestions the administration is divided on the issue are not true.
“The bottom line is we still don't know," Esper told Jeanine Pirro on Fox News’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine.”
“You know, on the first day as President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE rightly said, we thought it might have been an attack. Some of us speculated it could have been, for example, a Hezbollah arms shipment that blew up, maybe [a] Hezbollah … bomb-making facility. Who knows?” he said.
President Trump last week raised eyebrows by describing the explosion as an "attack," saying his military and national security advisers had indicated that it was likely a bomb.
"I met with some of our great generals, and they just seemed to feel that it was — this was not some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event," Trump said at a White House news conference on Tuesday. "According to them — they would know better than I would — but they seem to think it was an attack, it was a bomb of some kind."
"I don’t think anybody can say right now. We’re looking into it very strongly. … I mean, you have some people think it was an attack and you have some people that think it wasn’t," he added. "In any event, it was a terrible event and a lot of people were killed and a tremendous number of people were badly wounded, injured."
Esper on Wednesday, however, said that “most believe” it was an accident.
And later Wednesday, the president tempered his remarks, telling reporters it was too soon to say whether the deadly incident was a deliberate act.
"Whatever happened, it's terrible," Trump said during a press briefing. "But they don’t really know what it is. Nobody knows yet. At this moment they're looking — I mean, how can you say accident?"
The Pentagon chief told Pirro that it is "regrettable" that some in the media seized on his comments last week in an attempt to draw "divisions within the administration."
"And it's simply not true.”
Officials in Beirut have said a large amount of ammonium nitrate was stored in a warehouse where the explosion occurred. The Lebanese government is conducting an investigation into the blast, with officials signaling the materials had been housed at the site since 2014.
Esper also said on Fox News that the impacts of the explosion on Beirut and Lebanon are devastating.
“We are going to provide humanitarian assistance for the people of Lebanon. I already have planes lining up to deliver such supplies,” he said.
“We want to do everything we can to help the Lebanese people in this hour of need.”
--This report was updated at 7:55 a.m.
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