Trump briefed over alleged Russia bounty operation months ago, officials say as White House feud escalates

Joe Biden accuses US president of 'debasing himself in front of' Russian leader Vladimir Putin

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Tuesday 30 June 2020 14:56
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Biden slams Trump over report Russia put bounties on US troops in Afghanistan

US intelligence officials reportedly informed Donald Trump in late February via a written briefing their finding that a Russian military intel unit paid bounties to Taliban militants in Afghanistan to kill American and coalition military troops there.

Multiple media outlets, citing US officials, pushed back on White House and Pentagon claims on Monday that the president was not briefed on Russia's alleged payments for the deaths of American forces inside war-torn Afghanistan.

An investigation into the alleged Russian operation was focused on an April 2019 car bombing that killed three US Marines, multiple officials told The New York Times. Some Republican lawmakers who were briefed on the matter Monday at the White House tweeted about an investigation that cannot be completed after the Times late last week first reported the alleged Russian bounty scheme.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Monday repeatedly denied that the president was ever briefed about the bounty operation.

"This was not briefed up to the president because it was not, in fact, verified," she said. "There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations, and, in effect, there are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regards to the veracity of what's being reported. And the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated."

Intelligence-gathering is not a perfect business, however. Verifying the information included in such reports is not a requirement for taking it to this or any commander in chief.

But the White House late Monday night continued to deny Mr Trump ever knew about the Russian bounty intelligence.

"While we do not normally discuss such matters, we constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the president as necessary," national security adviser Robert O'Brien said in a statement. "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."

But two US officials told the Times that the information was included in Mr Trump's Presidential Daily Briefing months ago. That document is a summary of the US government's most recent insights about what is happening around the globe, and how those things might affect American interests; Mr Trump initially blanched at the daily dose of detailed intelligence as part of a years-long clash with the US intelligence community, which he continues to doubt and dismiss.

One of the officials told the Times the bounty plot was included in Mr Trump's PDB on 27 February. That contention amounted to a eyebrow-raising escalation by the intel community on a sitting commander in chief to apparently cast him as not having read the document.

A reporter asked Ms McEnany on Monday if the president has been "out of the loop" on the situation. Her reply: "No. As I noted, there was not a consensus among the intelligence community."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, slammed Mr Trump for, if the Times' latest reporting is true doing "worse than nothing" while knowing about the operation for months. Mr Biden accused the president of being guilty of "deference [to] and debasing himself in front of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin."

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