{{show_title_date || "Trump tries to duck responsibility for Yemen mission, 2/28/17, 11:18 PM ET"}}

New Trump claims about deadly Yemen raid appear to be untrue

Following up on a story we’ve been following, Donald Trump continues to face important questions about the first military raid he ordered as president, which tragically turned deadly. The fact that the Republican president is avoiding responsibility for what happened – and doesn’t appear to be telling the truth about the mission itself – makes the questions all the more serious.

As we’ve discussed, the plan was to acquire intelligence and equipment at an al Qaeda camp in Yemen, but the mission quickly went sideways: Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, a member of SEAL Team 6, was killed; several other Americans were injured; and by the end of the operation, multiple civilians, including children, were dead.

It’s been described as a mission in which “almost everything went wrong,” a dynamic made more complicated by U.S. military officials suggesting to Reuters that Trump approved the mission “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.”

Owens’ father, Bill, has refused to meet Trump and wants an investigation into the mission. The president was asked for his reaction in a Fox News interview that aired this morning, and Trump responded by effectively saying the mission he ordered wasn’t his idea.
“Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do. And they came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals…. And they lost Ryan.”
Trump went on to talk about his presence at the airport when Owens’ remains returned. He added, in reference to the mission, “This was something that they were looking at for a long time.” The president concluded that it was “a very successful mission,” which produced “tremendous amounts of information.”

There are a couple of key problems with Trump’s assessment. First, it’s genuinely bizarre to hear a Commander in Chief, reflecting on a mission he personally authorized, try to avoid responsibility for the mission he green-lit. I realize Trump’s new at this, but as a rule, presidents at least try to appear accountable.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/23/17, 9:24 PM ET

Trump indifference to responsibility reckless, dangerous

Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Biden, talks with Rachel Maddow about the uncomfortable mix of incompetence and malice at play within the Donald Trump administration.
Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Biden, talks with Rachel Maddow about the uncomfortable mix of incompetence and malice at play within the Donald Trump administration.
Second and more important is the fact that Trump’s version of events is at odds with the available evidence. As Rachel noted on the show last week, Team Trump has maintained in recent weeks that it was the Obama administration that approved the mission at a meeting of the National Security Council on Jan. 6, even if it was carried out soon after Trump took office.

That was directly contradicted by Colin Kahl, a deputy assistant to President Obama and National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, who participated in that National Security Council meeting and explained that no such decision was made. On the contrary, officials expected the new administration to begin its own deliberative process to evaluate whether the operation should go ahead.

Trump instead approved the mission over dinner at the White House residence, alongside political adviser Steve Bannon. While the deadly raid was underway, the president did not go to the Situation Room and did not monitor the developments in real time.

What about Trump’s assertions that this was “a very successful mission,” which produced “tremendous amounts of information”? The idea that this was a success is hard to accept on its face: Ryan Owens died; three other Navy SEALs were seriously injured; civilians were killed; and a U.S. airstrike had to destroy an Osprey to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Yemen’s government soon after placed new restrictions on U.S. military operations in the country.

As for Trump’s belief that the operation garnered important new intelligence, NBC News reported last night that the mission yielded practically nothing of value.

In other words, pretty much everything the president said about what transpired in Yemen appears to be untrue.

When we’re making lists of recent developments in need of an investigation, let’s keep this near the top.