By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday denied that he was made aware of U.S. intelligence officials’ conclusions that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan. The Trump administration was set to brief select members of Congress on the matter on Monday.
The intelligence assessments came amid Trump’s push to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan, and suggested that Russia was making overtures to militants as the U.S. and the Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war. The assessment was first reported by The New York Times and then confirmed to the Associated Press by American intelligence officials and two others with knowledge of the matter.
There were conflicting reports about whether Trump was aware of Russia’s actions. The intelligence officials told the AP that the president was briefed on the matter earlier this year; Trump denied that, tweeting on Sunday that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed. The president tweeted Sunday night that he was just told that intelligence officials didn’t report the information to him because they didn’t find it credible.
The intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the highly sensitive matter.
The White House National Security Council would not confirm the assessments, but said the U.S. receives thousands of intelligence reports daily that are subject to strict scrutiny.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who golfed with Trump on Sunday, tweeted a day earlier that it is “Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, called for the White House to share more information with Congress, saying if true, lawmakers need to know “Who did know and when?” and, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, “What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”
Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden said reports that Trump was aware of the Russian bounties would be a “truly shocking revelation” about the commander in chief and his failure to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.
Russia called the report “nonsense.”
‘One asks, why would he do something like that?’
John Bolton, on Trump’s statement that he was never briefed on the matter
“This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
A Taliban spokesman said the militants “strongly reject this allegation” and are not “indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country.”
John Bolton, the former national-security adviser who was forced out by Trump last September and has now written a tell-all book about his time at the White House, said Sunday that “it is pretty remarkable the president’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it. One asks, why would he do something like that?”