Department of Justice officials were consulted before President Donald Trump ordered a strike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday.
"Frankly I didn't think it was a close call," Barr told reporters, according to USA Today, adding, "The president clearly had the authority to act as he did...We had a situation where the Iranians had already embarked on a series of escalating violent actions taken against our allies, taken against the American people, our troops, with the avowed purpose of driving us out of the Middle East."
Barr declined to say when the Justice Department was first consulted on the operation, but he described Soleimani as a “legitimate target.”
“This was a legitimate act of self-defense,” Barr stated in his first public comments on the strike.
The comments come amid criticism about the Trump administration's justification for killing Soleimani.
Trump told Fox News in an interview on Friday that the imminent threat from Iran that provoked the US to kill Soleimani involved planned attacks on four US embassies.
Barr on Monday echoed other administration defenses of the strike as designed to disrupt “imminent” attacks on US interests, but declined to elaborate on the timing of those plans, saying he didn't believe there was a requirement for the US to know the specific timing of a pending strike.
"Our ability to deter attacks had obviously broken down," the attorney general said, referring to a series of escalating confrontations between Washington and Tehran that preceded Soleimani's killing.
"The Iranians had been given a number of red lines and were crossing those lines," Barr said. "They obviously felt that they could attack us and continue these escalating attacks with impunity."
Earlier on Monday, Trump again defended his decision and said the accounts he and others have given have been "totally consistent."
"We killed Soleimani, the number one terrorist in the world by every account. Bad person, killed a lot of Americans, killed a lot of people," the president said.
Meanwhile in Congress, Democrats and some Republicans have questioned assertions by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials that Soleimani was plotting an "imminent" attack that would have put American lives at risk, noted USA Today.
Democratic lawmakers were also critical of Trump’s order to eliminate Soleimani, claiming he should have consulted with Congress beforehand.
Last week, the House of Representatives approved a non-binding resolution asserting that Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.
After the White House sent to Congress formal notification of the US drone strike that killed Soleimani, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the notification “raises more questions than it answers. This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran.”