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July 1, 2020, 10:33 p.m. EDT

Pompeo defends Trump administration response to intelligence assessments about Russian bounties on U.S. lives in Afghanistan

Intelligence officials say the White House first became aware of alleged Russian bounties in early 2019 — a year earlier than previously reported

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By Associated Press


Associated Press
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during Wednesday’s news conference at the State Department that there’s nothing newsworthy in Russia’s behaving in a manner adverse to American interests in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON — Criticized for inaction, President Donald Trump and top officials on Wednesday stepped up their defense of the administration’s response to intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Trump’s national security adviser said he had prepared a list of retaliatory options if the intelligence proved true.

Trump, meanwhile, called the assessments a “hoax” and insisted anew he hadn’t been briefed on them because the intelligence didn’t rise to his level. However, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said both the CIA and Pentagon did pursue the leads and briefed international allies.

“We had options ready to go,” O’Brien said on “Fox and Friends.” “It may be impossible to get to the bottom of it.”

At a State Department news conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation was handled “incredibly well” to ensure the safety of U.S. troops.

“We took this seriously, we handled it appropriately,” Pompeo said, without giving additional details. He said the administration receives intelligence about threats to Americans “every single day” and each is addressed.

Pompeo added that Russian activity in Afghanistan is nothing new and that Russia is just one of many nations acting there. He said that Congress has had similar information in the past, and that he often receives threat assessments that don’t rise to the level of a presidential briefing.

Trump is coming under increasing pressure from lawmakers of both parties to provide more answers about the intelligence and the U.S. response or lack of one. Democrats who were briefed at the White House on Tuesday suggested he was bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the risk of U.S. soldiers’ lives.

The president has repeatedly said he wasn’t briefed on the assessments that Russia offered bounties because there wasn’t corroborating evidence. Those assessments were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany pointed to an individual who she said made the decision not to brief Trump, identifying the person as a female CIA officer with more than 30 years of experience. O’Brien said the person was a “career CIA briefer.”

“The national security adviser agreed with that decision,” McEnany said. “It was the right decision to make, and at this moment as I speak to you it is still unverified.”

Trump remained defensive about the intelligence in early morning tweets, dismissing stories about it as “Fake News” made up to “damage me and the Republican Party.”

Later in the day, Trump said in a television interview that it was a hoax and “we never heard about it” because intelligence officials didn’t think it rose to that level.

“The intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all,” Trump said on Fox Business.

O’Brien said the intelligence wasn’t brought to Trump’s attention initially because it was unverified and there was no consensus among the intelligence community. But it’s rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of doubt before it is presented to senior government decision-makers.

The national security adviser echoed the recent White House talking point faulting not Russia but government leakers and the media for making the matter public.

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