President Trump said Sunday he wasn’t briefed by U.S. intelligence on a report that Russian agents offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. soldiers.
Mr. Trump tweeted “nobody briefed or told me,” or Vice President Mike Pence or White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes.”
“Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration.”
The New York Times reported Friday that U.S. intelligence concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence agents had offered the bounties to militants linked to the Taliban. The paper said Mr. Trump was briefed on the matter, and that the National Security Council held a meeting about it in late March.
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in combat in Afghanistan earlier this year.
Other administration officials have denied the accusation that the president was told of bounties.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said he has “confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting.”
“The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate,” Mr. Ratcliffe said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany added that “while the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”
She said her comments do not “speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence,” whether Russia actually did this, “but to the inaccuracy of The New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter.”
Mr. Trump also said he has been tougher on Russia than the Obama administration had been.
“With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine - Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their ‘source’”? he tweeted. “Funny to see Corrupt Joe Biden reading a statement on Russia, which was obviously written by his handlers. Russia ate his and Obama’s lunch during their time in office.”
Democrats are calling for a congressional investigation.
Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, asked former acting Director of Intelligence Richard Grenell on Twitter, “Did you really not tell [the president and vice president] that Russia was paying militants to kill US troops?”
Mr. Grenell replied to the lawmaker, “I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence. You clearly don’t understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain.”
He said critics are “basing a whole bunch of assumptions on an anonymous source from the NYT.”
Former President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice tweeted of the White House’s explanation, “I don’t believe this for a minute, but if it were true, it means that Trump is not even pretending to serve as commander in chief. And no one around him has the guts to ask him to. More evidence of their deadly incompetence.”
In an interview with ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the reports again raise questions about whether the president has been compromised by Moscow, adding that she was unaware of the issue until The Times report.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” the California Democrat said.
Speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday, former White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton — in his latest TV appearance to promote his anti-Trump book, “The Room Where It Happened” — stressed that he’s not entirely convinced the reports of Russian bounties are true.
But if they are, he said they offer more evidence of how the president can only view an issue through the prism of how it affects him politically, even the possible deaths of American service members in Afghanistan.
“It looks bad if Russians are paying to kill Americans and we’re not doing anything about it. So what is the president’s reaction? ‘It’s not my responsibility, nobody told me about it,’” Mr. Bolton said. “That is part of the problem with President Trump’s decision-making in the national security space. It’s just unconnected to the reality he’s dealing with. It’s about his personal position.”
Mr. Bolton added that if the reports are true, Mr. Trump must immediately pursue “very severe measures” to punish Moscow.
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