- President Donald Trump is facing bipartisan pressure over when he was informed of intelligence that Russia had offered bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops, and what action he took.
- The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the White House was aware of the intelligence as early as January 2019 and that Trump was given the information in a written briefing.
- That was months before three US Marines were killed in an April 2019 roadside bombing in Afghanistan, which is now being investigated by US intelligence for links to a Russian bounty offer.
- Trump has denied being briefed on the intelligence and suggested the reports were not credible.
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A US intelligence investigation into an alleged Russian plot to offer Taliban militants bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan has spurred questions about what the Trump administration knew, and when they knew it.
Since then, the possibility that the Trump administration knew of the intelligence and failed to act has sparked concern from both parties and reignited scrutiny over President Donald Trump’s behaviour towards Russia.
The White House was aware of the intelligence in early 2019
Both Democrats and Republicans have since questioned whether and when Trump was briefed on the intelligence and, if so, what he did with the information.
“If reporting about Russian bounties on US forces is true, the White House must explain: 1: Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the [President’s Daily Brief]? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold [Russian President Vladimir] Putin accountable?” Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, tweeted Sunday.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that top White House officials had learned of the potential Russian bounty offers by January 2019.
Citing US officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence, the Associated Press also reported that the information was given to President Donald Trump in at least one of his written daily intelligence briefings at the time. Trump has been known to avoid reading those briefings.
Bolton reportedly briefed Trump himself in March 2019
Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, told colleagues he also briefed Trump on the issue in March 2019, according to the Associated Press, though he declined to confirm the information to the outlet on Monday.
The controversy over the timing of the intelligence briefings comes amid an investigation into which attacks, specifically, may have involved Russian bounties. The Washington Post reported June 28 that US intelligence sources believe the bounty offers have caused the deaths of several US troops, though the exact number is unclear.
The US intelligence community is now investigating the deaths of three US Marines who were killed in April 2019 in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan that the Taliban later claimed credit for.
In total, 20 Americans died in combat in Afghanistan that year, according to The Times, though it’s still unconfirmed which of those deaths are being investigated as part of the allegations against Russia.
The Trump administration actively discussed the matter in early 2020 but didn’t act
Beyond those 2019 briefings, multiple media reports have indicated that the Trump administration was actively discussing the matter in early 2020. Trump received a written briefing in February 2020, according to The New York Times, and the newspaper’s original June 26 report said the White House’s National Security Council discussed the intelligence at a March 2020 meeting.
According to The Times, intelligence officials created a list of possible solutions, including a formal diplomatic complaint to the Russian government, as well as increasing sanctions, but the Trump administration didn’t move forward with any of the options.
After the first reports about the Russian plot, the Trump administration denied Trump was briefed on the intelligence at all. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Trump was still “not personally briefed on the matter.”
Trump has since denied ever being briefed
Trump has also personally denied being briefed, tweeting on June 28 that US intelligence “just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or [Vice President Mike Pence].” Trump went on to accuse The New York Times of fabricating the news to “make Republicans look bad.”
Both McEnany and Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, have described the Russian bounty allegations as unsubstantiated, arguing that the intelligence community had not confirmed the information, and therefore did not raise it to Trump’s attention.
“We constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the President as necessary,” O’Brien said in a statementMonday evening. “Because the allegations in recent press articles have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items.”
The Associated Press also reported that White House officials said they had not considered the 2019 briefings urgent, and that Bolton’s briefing to Trump in March 2019 contained no “actionable intelligence.”
Both Russia and the Taliban have denied the US intelligence assessment. Russia’s foreign ministry accused US intelligence officials of inventing “nonsense,” and a Taliban spokesman told the Associated Press the organisation was not “indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country.”
- Read more:
- Former national security officials are questioning the White House’s claim Trump never knew about a Russian bounty on US troops
- Suspected Russia bounty operation possibly connected to bombing that killed 3 US Marines, report says
- Trump says US intelligence did not find reports about Russian bounties on US troops ‘credible’ and therefore did not report it to him
- NATO officials say they were briefed on Russian bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan – even though Trump claims he wasn’t
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