Trump administration 'stupefyingly stupid' for withholding information on Russian bounties, Harvard professor says

'It’s almost impressive how the Trump White House keeps making this series of scandals worse,' expert in national security law says

Louise Hall
Wednesday 01 July 2020 18:51
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Kayleigh McEnany denies that Trump was briefed over Russia intelligence

Lawyers have expressed outrage at reports the White House withheld evidence of Russian bounties on American soldiers from Republican lawmakers.

The president and his administration have faced scathing comments from a number of law experts following days of controversy surrounding a report by The New York Times which alleged that Russia put bounties on US troops in Afghanistan.

Contention in Washington has emerged throughout the week around allegations that Mr Trump and his aides were briefed on the intelligence and did not take action.

Top White House officials briefed senior Republicans on Monday about the situation following the reports.

The White House stated on Monday that Mr Trump had not been informed about the intelligence as there was “no consensus” about the veracity of the information.

However, a report from The New York Times on Tuesday alleged that American officials had intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from Russia's military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account that corroborated the initial bounty intelligence.

The New York Times report also alleged that politicians in the Republican House briefing were not informed about the intercepted data tracking financial transfers.

Lawyers have hit out at the administration in light of these allegations suggesting that if this data was withheld from politicians it would undermine the White House's position of denial.

On Monday the Pentagon told Fox News that there was “no corroborating evidence” to support The New York Times' reporting.

“It’s almost impressive how the Trump White House keeps making this series of scandals *worse*,” Steve Vladeck, an expert in national security law and military justice posted on Twitter.

“It’s bad enough that they lied all weekend about what they knew and when; now it turns out that they even misled the hand-picked congressional Republicans who they ‘briefed’ yesterday.”

The New York Times report also alleged that the information was provided to Mr Trump in his daily written brief in late February, according to two officials.

“Beginning of trail was intercept of bank data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account. Two officials confirm Trump was briefed. In a different time, we’d be talking impeachment,” Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist, attorney and law professor Harry Litman said.

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe called the Trump administration’s reported actions “stupefyingly stupid”.

“Looks like Trump administration kept this corroborating intel even from the Republican lawmakers briefed yesterday,” New York University law Professor Ryan Goodman commented, linking to The New YorkTimes report.

Republicans on the other hand have repeatedly accused Democrats of “politicising" the reports of the intelligence.

Donald Trump and the White House have repeatedly denied that the president was briefed on the intelligence.

“This was not briefed up to the president because, in fact, it was not verified,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Monday.

Other reports by the Associated Press and later The Washington Post have claimed that top White House officials were aware of the intelligence in early 2019, a full year earlier than has been previously reported.

Several US military sources told The Washington Post that Taliban-linked militants were believed to have killed several Americans and other coalition force members with the Russian deal in mind. It is unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been targeted under the programme.

Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of the programme.

The White House did not respond to questions about Mr Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019 when contacted by the AP.

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