WASHINGTON – The White House denied Saturday that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed on an intelligence finding that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American troops and other coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day, and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
While the White House does not routinely comment on 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,” McEnany said.
The New York Times, which first reported the intelligence finding on Friday, said Trump had been briefed on the issue and that the White House’s National Security Council discussed the matter at an interagency meeting in late March.
McEnany said her statement “does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter.”
The Times said the U.S. concluded months ago that a Russian unit linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.
Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the paper reported. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion, the paper said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and an Army combat veteran, said she will demand a Senate hearing to get to the bottom of the report. She also slammed Trump for supporting Russia’s bid to re-enter the G-7, an organization of leaders of the world’s most industrialized nations.
“First, Donald Trump encouraged Russia to interfere in our democracy, and they did,” said Duckworth, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Now, Russia is secretly paying militants to kill U.S. troops. Trump has known for months but apparently done nothing to stop them. Meanwhile, he’s helping Russia’s effort to rejoin the G-7.”
“Our troops deserve to know what the Trump administration is doing to protect them and why Donald Trump failed to take action in the first place,” she said.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Twitter that if the report is true, “it would only deepen my grave concerns about the (Vladimir) Putin regime’s malicious behavior globally.”
Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.