WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress as Vice President Mike Pence (L) and House Speaker...
Chip Somodevilla

Trump’s claims about Yemen raid run into conflicting evidence

For many pundits, Donald Trump’s rhetoric honoring slain Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was the emotional highlight of the president’s congressional address this week. But as the applause dies down, the questions surrounding the deadly raid in Yemen grow louder.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/28/17, 11:18 PM ET

Trump tries to duck responsibility for Yemen mission

Rachel Maddow and an MSNBC panel discuss Donald Trump’s remarks on a U.S. military raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead.
Rachel Maddow and an MSNBC panel discuss Donald Trump’s remarks on a U.S. military raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead.
Phillip Carter, a former Army officer and former Pentagon official, wrote in Slate yesterday, for example, “Words cannot convey my compassion and sympathy for Owens and her family. And yet, at the same time, I can barely contain my anger and disgust at the way that Trump put her on display, seeking to appropriate her grief – and her deceased husband’s heroism – for his political gain. This was stolen valor on a presidential scale.”

BuzzFeed had a related report, quoting military officers who were not at all impressed with the president’s display on Tuesday night. “Several used the word ‘distasteful’ to describe what happened during the address,” the article noted.

There’s additional scrutiny, meanwhile, on the accuracy of Trump’s claims about the mission itself. The president told the nation the operation was “a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence,” but NBC News, citing 10 source, reported that Trump’s claim isn’t true.
The Pentagon says Navy SEALs scooped up laptops, hard drives and cell phones in last month’s Yemen raid, but multiple U.S. officials told NBC News that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital – contrary to what President Trump said in his speech to Congress Tuesday. […]

No one questions Owens’ heroism and sacrifice. Ten current U.S. officials across the government who have been briefed on the details of the raid told NBC News that so far, no truly significant intelligence has emerged from the haul…. One senior Pentagon official described the information gathered as “de minimis,” and as material the U.S. already knew about.
Looking at this controversy surrounding what happened in Yemen, there are basically three elements to the story.

First, there’s the question of how and why Trump launched this operation. Officials in Trump’s White House have said the raid was approved by the Obama administration, but there’s evidence that suggests the opposite is true.

What’s more, U.S. military officials have told Reuters that Trump approved the raid – the first operation he approved as president – “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.” He green-lit the mission over dinner at the White House residence, and while the raid was underway, Trump did not go to the Situation Room and did not monitor the developments in real time.

Second, there’s the president’s efforts to deny responsibility for the raid he personally approved. Remember, it was just two days ago that Fox aired an interview with Trump in which he said, in reference to the deadly raid in Yemen, “Well this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do. They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe, and they lost Ryan.”

To put it mildly, real leaders don’t speak this way when their operations go wrong.

And third, there’s the question of whether Trump’s claims are accurate or not. This week, the president has twice insisted that the raid produced highly valuable intelligence, and has said Defense Secretary James Mattis backs him up on this. And yet, there’s ample reporting that has called these claims into question.

I can’t say with confidence where this story’s headed, but if the president lied about a mission in which an American hero was killed – and then lied to the soldier’s grieving widow in order to make himself look good during a speech – this won’t be just another controversy for the White House.