White House briefs top Republicans – but not Democrats – on Russia bounty row

Senior GOP politician says heads could roll at US intelligence agencies if aides failed to move reports about the alleged scheme up the chain of command to the president

Griffin Connolly
Monday 29 June 2020 21:06 BST
Trump attacked by Pelosi for ignoring briefing on Russia placing bounties on US soldiers

Top White House officials briefed senior Republicans on Monday on the ongoing controversy surrounding an alleged Russian bounty scheme for Afghan militants to kill US soldiers.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, and national security adviser Robert O'Brien met with seven GOP lawmakers in the White House situation room to discuss reports that Russia offered money to Taliban-linked fighters to kill US forces in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported days ago that Donald Trump was briefed by US intelligence on the reports, but decided not to take action. The White House has denied that Mr Trump was briefed on the matter.

Attending Monday's meeting were House Republican conference chairwoman Liz Cheney, foreign affairs committee ranking member Michael McCaul, armed services ranking member Mac Thornberry, and four others in prominent national security and leadership positions.

Mr Thornberry subsequently told Fox News that heads could roll at US intelligence agencies if it is discovered aides neglected their duty to move reports about the alleged Russian bounty scheme up the chain of command to the president.

“It may be appropriate for people who should have briefed the President to be removed if they did not follow their responsibilities,” Mr Thornberry told the network.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate minority leader Chuck Schumer have both demanded briefings for their respective chambers on what Mr Trump and his intelligence community knew about the alleged Russian bounty programme and why it wasn't reported all the way up the chain of command to the president and his top advisers such as Vice President Mike Pence, if that is indeed the case.

"We need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when,” Mr Schumer said in a statement on Monday.

Politico reported on Monday that White House officials are working with House Democrats to hold a briefing on the situation soon.

While the president has suggested the alleged Russian intelligence scheme to pay bounties to Taliban fighters who kill US soldiers is a “fabricated Russia Hoax” intended to “make Republicans look bad,” most congressional Republicans have not yet adopted that stance.

Ms Cheney, the third-in-command among House Republicans, tweeted on Sunday that the White House must explain "why the president and vice president were not briefed about the reports of a Russian bounty programme; whether the information was provided at any point in the President's Daily Brief, the daily summary of high-level information and analysis from all agencies on national security issues that is supposed to land on the desks of the president, cabinet officials, and top advisers; who did know about the intel reports and when; and what the administration has done in response to protect US forces and hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable."

Also at the House GOP White House briefing on Monday were Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs; Congressman Jim Banks, a Navy Reserve officer who has been deployed to Afghanistan; and Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a veteran of US Air Force operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Monday there was "no consensus" among the 16 US intelligence agencies about the veracity of reports about a Russian bounty programme in Afghanistan.

"There are some dissenting opinions within the intelligence community," Ms McEnany said.

"This was not briefed up to the president because, in fact, it was not verified," she said, declining to say what, if anything, Mr Trump might do in retaliation, if the intelligence is eventually verified.

Despite Ms McEnany's explanation, reports of threats from foreign adversaries do not require consensus to be included in the president's daily intelligence briefing materials.

In the past, briefs have often included reports that conflict on the details and scope of various foreign nations' actions, intelligence analysts have pointed out.

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