US President Donald Trump says he was never briefed on explosive intelligence showing
Russia offered militants in Afghanistan bounties to kill American soldiers.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported a Russian military intelligence unit
had secretly offered to reward Taliban-linked militants for successfully targeting
coalition forces, including US troops, last year.
Citing US officials “briefed on the matter”, the newspaper said America was aware of
Russia’s actions “months ago”, Mr Trump was briefed, and the White House’s National
Security Council discussed the issue in late March.
“Officials developed a menu of potential options, starting with making a diplomatic complaint to
Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible
responses, but the White House has yet to authorise any step,” it said.
Twenty American soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2019. It is unclear how many of those deaths,
if any, were linked to Russia’s involvement, but according to the Times there is intelligence
to suggest bounty money did change hands.
Today The Washington Post reported the bribes had resulted in “several” deaths, but it did not
give a specific number.
The White House has not disputed the media’s characterisation of the underlying intelligence, but
it has contradicted one crucial element of the story. It says Mr Trump and Vice President Mike
Pence were not, in fact, briefed.
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day, and they are subject to
strict scrutiny,” said Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal
deliberations, the CIA director, national security adviser and the chief of staff can all
confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian
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The Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, also released a statement on the
matter. He said he had confirmed “neither the President nor the Vice President were ever
briefed on any intelligence” reported by the Times.
According to CBS News’ national security reporter Catherine Herridge, the National Security Council
has gone back through its files and found no evidence the bounty allegations were ever included in
Mr Trump’s daily national security briefing.
And today, the President himself said nobody had told him about “the so-called attacks” on American troops.
“Everybody is denying it and there have not been many attacks on us,” said Mr Trump, dismissing the
story as “just another phony Times hit job”.
TRUMP ‘KEPT IN THE DARK’
If Mr Trump truly wasn’t briefed on a serious allegation that Russia was orchestrating attacks on
US troops, there is a fairly obvious follow-up question – why not?
As recently as May – months after US intelligence uncovered the alleged bounty scheme – Mr
Trump was pushing for Russia to be readmitted to the prestigious Group of 7, which currently
includes the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, Canada and Italy.
Russia was kicked out of the group in 2014 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Letting
it back in would be quite the diplomatic boon for President Vladimir Putin.
“Why weren’t the President or Vice President briefed? Who did know, and when?”
Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney asked today.
She was echoed by other Republicans, including former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw.
“There’s no good answer here. Either he did know, and with that knowledge, was still talking
about bringing Russia into the G7. If he wasn’t briefed, then the question is, why wasn’t he
briefed?” said NBC anchor Chuck Todd.
“It is striking how careful these statements are from the White House, to not dispute the
facts of the intelligence reports, but at the same time, only dispute the notion that the
President and Vice President were briefed.
“It just, it’s amazing to me, to proactively admit that the President is kept in the dark on
something this alarming.”
Mr Trump finally provided an explanation at about 11pm, local time, claiming “intel” had told him
they didn’t brief him because they did not find the information “credible”.
Mr Trump’s political opponents, the Democrats, aren’t buying it.
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The President’s rival in the upcoming election, former vice president Joe Biden, called the
Russia story “shocking” and “beyond the pale”, dismissing the White House’s insistence that
Mr Trump was unaware of the intelligence.
“The commander-in-chief of American troops, serving in the dangerous theatre of war, has known about
this for months according to the Times, and done worse than nothing,” Mr Biden said.
“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious
violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference
and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin.
“It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when
we send them into harm’s way.
“It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan, or
His fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, went even further, suggesting Mr Trump was
reluctant to confront Russia because the country “has something” on him.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet, the President will not confront the Russians on this score,”
Ms Pelosi said.
“Just as I have said to the President, with him, all roads lead to Putin. I don’t know what the
Russians have on the President – politically, personally, financially or whatever it is – but he
wants to ignore, he wants to bring them back to the G8.
“The President wants to ignore any allegation against Russia.”
She said Mr Trump “should have been briefed”.
“You would think that the minute the President heard of it, he would want to know more instead of
denying that he knew anything,” said Ms Pelosi.
“If he was not (briefed), what does that say about the concern that those who have briefed the
President have of not going anywhere near the Russia issue with the President?
“How else would you explain his refusal to even – to ignore, again and again, the intelligence
that puts right at the Russian doorstep this involvement into our elections, for example?
“Now he’s saying this is fake news. Why would he say that? Why wouldn’t he say, ‘Let’s look into
it?’ How do you answer to the family members of those who are serving there, and he’s engaged in
peace negotiations with the Taliban, and he’s kissing up to Putin in every way?
“Something is wrong with this picture.”
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army, said she would push for
the Senate to investigate the issue.
“Russia is secretly paying militants to kill US troops, Trump has known for months, but
apparently done nothing to stop them. Meanwhile, he’s helping Russia’s effort to rejoin
the G7,” she said.
“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.”
And General Michael Hayden, a former CIA director and frequent critic of Mr Trump, questioned why
the President still hadn’t moved to punish Russia.
“Trump says he was not briefed about Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan. OK, fine.
What is he doing about it now?” Gen Hayden said.