Trump Pressed by Both Parties for Answers on Bounty Report
(Bloomberg) -- Lawmakers from both parties called on the Trump administration to provide more information about intelligence that Russia put a bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with Democrats questioning why President Donald Trump hasn’t responded.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said after getting a briefing at the White House Tuesday that he isn’t sure whether Trump has yet heard details about the intelligence days after the first public reports about it.
“This is a red flag, that either was not waved, or the president ignored the wave,” Hoyer said. “This is a serious matter and we need to make sure members of Congress and the public understand whether our relationship with Russia is compromised by the president and his relationship with” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Texas Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, was among the Republicans who were briefed by the White House on Monday.
“Do I have additional questions and want to pursue other lines? Of course I do,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. The top priority is “the safety of our troops; that means that every lever of government needs to gather more information.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden told reporters that congressional intelligence committees should demand a full accounting from the Trump administration and that he may seek a classified briefing for himself on the bounty reports.
Trump, who has been pressing to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan, has publicly shrugged off allegations that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan. His only public statement about the reports was a tweet that an intelligence official he didn’t name told him the bounty allegations weren’t credible. His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, has repeatedly said Trump wasn’t briefed on the intelligence reports because there’s no consensus on their veracity.
But Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said after returning from the briefing at the White House there is “certainly” evidence of Russian involvement in placing bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“From the way that it was presented to us it is hard to imagine that he wasn’t at least aware of the allegation,” Smith told a group of defense writers.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff suggested “there may be reluctance” on the part of intelligence and White House officials to brief the president “on things he doesn’t want to hear,” particularly with respect to Russia.
“I would certainly put this in the category that if you are going to be on the phone with Vladimir Putin, this is something you ought to know,” Schiff said during a press conference with Hoyer, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and others.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that U.S. officials had evidence of large financial transfers from Russian military intelligence bank accounts to a Taliban-linked account. The Times, citing three unnamed officials, said that bolstered conclusions by U.S. intelligence that the Russians were offering bounties for killing U.S. and allied forces.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Agency dissented strongly from the conclusions about the bounties made by other intelligence agencies. It wasn’t clear why the NSA differed, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of using leaks about the intelligence as a political tool to damage Trump.
“I think the protection of our men and women who serve in the military is too important to play politics,” McCarthy said, adding, “Let’s be very clear, nobody on this side believes Russia is good players.”
Representative Liz Cheney, a member of the House GOP leadership, said U.S. adversaries should know that any targeting of American forces “will face a very swift and deadly response.”
She said she expected additional briefings on the issue.
Similar views were offered by several GOP senators on Monday.
“I think we need to get the truth here,” Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said. “We need to find out where the intelligence reports were lodged and what the intelligence community thought about them and who was told.”
Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliff was set to go before the panel Wednesday for a previously scheduled hearing.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Intelligence committee, said military families in his home state of Nebraska are “livid” about the reported bounties.
“This is a time to focus on the two things that Congress should be looking at. One, who knew what when and did the commander and chief know?” Sasse told reporters Monday. The second, he said, is “what are we going to do to impose proportional cost in response?”
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