Sen. Chris Van Hollen warned on MSNBC Friday afternoon that national security advisor John Bolton "has wanted to bomb Iran for a long time" and could be trying to manipulate the U.S. into a war.
"They manipulated the intelligence around Iraq. They cherry-picked the intelligence, and they got President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq," he said.
"The president may say he may not want it, but people like John Bolton are doing everything they can to put us in a position where you might have that miscalculation. The kind of Gulf of Tonkin situation."
"What John Bolton and President Trump are doing is empowering the hardliners and giving them more strength within Iran, rather those that want to work with the United States and the west," he said.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: Senator Chris Van Hollen is here, a Democrat from Maryland. He and three other Democratic Senators sent a letter to President Trump Thursday about the administration's growing confrontation with Iran. Senator, welcome. What are your concerns?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Yes. Well this is a very dangerous moment. It's good to hear President Trump say he doesn't want to go to war, but as was just reported, the Trump administration has taken a series of very provocative actions that risk miscalculation, risk the Iranians taking steps in response to that provocation that could light fire and create a war.
We're dealing with John Bolton, national security advisor, physically close to the president, and he has wanted to bomb Iran for a long time. He's a skilled bureaucratic inside fighter. And I'm reminded of two other skilled inside fighters, Dick Cheney as vice president, Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. They manipulated the intelligence around Iraq. They cherry picked the intelligence, and they got President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. So let's be very vigilant at this point in time, because the actions President Trump is (ph) taken have been highly provocative and dangerous.
MITCHELL: The Senate and House leadership, the gang of eight supposedly, the leaders plus the ranking members of the Intelligence Committees were briefed for the first time yesterday. The first time. Now Nancy Pelosi for weeks has been asking for a briefing. I'm sure that there have been requests from the Senate side. Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican, has been asking for briefings. He's not one of those ranking members. Do you feel that the briefings are now going to take place? The all Senate briefing next Tuesday and the House briefing as well?
VAN HOLLEN: It's outrageous that we have gotten this far down the road without a briefing from the executive branch. As you said, the gang of eight was briefed. We do expect to have a full Senate briefing this coming week. Many of us individually have been asking for briefings. We haven't gotten them.
I've had a chance to review the intelligence that's been provided by the administration in written form, and I can just tell you from looking at the public reports and everything else, my interpretation is very similar to what you indicate the "Wall Street Journal" has been reporting, which is Iran has watched these very provocative actions, and they then will take countermeasures to defend themselves.
That, in turn, could lead to miscalculation, right? You have a lot of Shia militia in Iraq, and the danger of a confrontation erupting somehow between U.S. forces and some of those militias is real, and that could lead to a war. So the president may say he may not want it, but people like John Bolton are doing everything they can to put us in a position where you might have that miscalculation. The kind of Gulf of Tonkin situation.
MITCHELL: The president met yesterday with the president of Switzerland, not a typical meeting. And he Swiss are our intermediaries Iran, because we don't have diplomatic relations. Could there be some diplomatic overtures here. He has said, "I want to talk to them. I hope they would call me." Our information from Tehran is that there's no chance that they're going to call with the way things have been dialed (ph) up here -
VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's --
MITCHELL: -- but is there's some way to get communication going?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I hope there is. But look, the president came into the office, one of the first things he did was tear up the Iran nuclear agreement, an agreement that constrains the Iranian nuclear program. Then he put in place maximum sanctions, then as you said, he designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization. So he's taken a series of steps and then he says "Hey, I want Iran to give me a call." Iran's saying, "Look, if you've got a better proposal than you've already put on the table, let us know what it is." In the meantime, Bolton has just implemented this series of provocations.
And so, yes, I hope we could have a conversation, but President Trump's got to realize this isn't some kind of New York real estate deal. You're talking about very serious business here.
MITCHELL: The secretary of state and Bolton have both said that their calculus is that if you squeeze the regime enough economically, they'll come back to table and negotiate quote, "a better nuclear deal." The chances of that happening of this regime yielding to that kind of pressure?
VAN HOLLEN: It's not going to happen, Andrea. In fact, we just saw the Iranian response. In fact, they sort of lived with the fact that Trump ripped up the agreement for over a year, but when the administration refused to provide waivers for some of the measures that actually help us keep Iran in the deal, Iran indicated that it's not going to be bound forever.
Furthermore, what you're seeing happen is the Trump policies are simply giving more power to the Iranian hardliners. I mean, look, this is no democracy, right? This is a dictatorship, but there are a range of views within the Iranian regime. And what John Bolton and President Trump are doing is empowering the hardliners and giving them more strength within Iran, rather those that want to work with the United States and the west.