US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testify about authorizations for the use of military force before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

US President Donald Trump doesn’t need congressional approval to act on an imminent threat from North Korea, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said at a Senate hearing in Washington earlier this week. Ex-CIA director John Brennan, in a separate interview with The Atlantic, has also warned of the dangers of “Trump unleashed.”

Mattis, echoing interpretations of Trump’s executive powers by his backers, said in response to a question: “I believe under Article II (of the Constitution), he has a responsibility, obviously, to protect the country and if there was not time, I could imagine him not consulting or consulting as he’s doing something along the lines, for example, of what we did at Shayrat air field in Syria, when we struck that and the Congress was notified immediately.”

With respect to North Korea, Mattis said: “But in this case of North Korea, it would be a direct imminent or actual attack on the United States I think Article II would apply,” he added.

The US Constitution stipulates that only Congress has the authority to declare war. But Article II of the same document also says the President has the power to unilaterally order military action when he determines that a foreign political entity poses a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the US.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the same hearing of Trump’s powers, “I think it would have to be fact-based and given consideration as to the circumstances around an imminent threat.”

In related news, former CIA director John Brennan commented on the dangers of “Trump unleashed” and the possibility of igniting World War III in a Friday interview with The Atlantic.

Brennan, who headed the spy agency under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, also praised the role being played by military advisers like Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford in restraining the president’s impulses.

Brennan noted that whether it’s an impending terror attack or a military incident involving North Korea that the idea of “Trump unleashed is a dangerous thought.” But Brennan also lashed out at what he called the “enablers” of Trump’s “bad instincts.” He says such enablers have included Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Alluding to alleged political statements about the failed policies of the prior Obama administration made by McMaster, an active-duty general, Brennan said that McMaster “does a disservice to the uniform.”

“For many years, the United States was loath to initiate” a conflict with North Korea, Brennan noted. “I don’t know what Mr. Trump is capable of deciding or doing,” he said at another point in the interview.

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