Intelligence officials have confirmed to several media outlets that President Trump was briefed on the bounty matter earlier this year.
President Donald Trump is under increasing scrutiny over his reported knowledge of a Russian bounty scheme that led to the deaths of multiple American soldiers.
American intelligence officials have determined that a Russian military intelligence agency offered bounties to Taliban-connected militants that led to the killings of multiple U.S. service members—a revelation they shared with the White House in March.
U.S. officials obtained the intel from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants, The Washington Post reported Sunday, shortly after news of bounties was first uncovered by The New York Times. The intelligence assessments came amid Trump’s push to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan and suggest Russia was making overtures to militants as the U.S. and the Taliban held talks to end the long-running war.
Sources familiar with the matter told the Post that it was unclear how many Americans or coalition soldiers from other countries were killed or targeted under the bounty program. Twenty-eight American troops have been killed by hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2018. Several service members also died at the hands of hostile Afghan security forces, which are rumored to have been infiltrated by members of the Taliban.
According to the Associated Press, the intelligence community has specifically been investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they traveled back to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the attack, along with an Afghan contractor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, but both Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of the bounty program.
The intelligence, which was reviewed and confirmed by the CIA, led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the Post reported. The meeting included discussions about possible responses, such as confronting Russia directly or imposing sanctions. More than three months later, however, no actions have been taken.
Intelligence officials have confirmed to the Post, AP, and other outlets that Trump was brief on the bounty matter earlier this year, but Trump has repeatedly denied he was ever briefed on the intelligence.
On Saturday, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe also denied Trump had been briefed.
News of Trump’s possible knowledge of the bounty program and ensuing lack of action led to a wave of criticism over the weekend. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said that if Trump was aware of the Russian bounties, it would be a “truly shocking revelation” about the president and his failure to protect American troops and stand up to Russia.
“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,” Biden said on Saturday during a virtual town hall event held by a voter group, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote.
Veterans advocacy group VoteVets has also blasted Trump, accusing him of treason in a scathing new ad.
The report’s damning revelations prompted bipartisan members of Congress to begin demanding answers as well.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on ABC News’s “This Week.” Pelosi on Monday called on the intelligence community to brief all members of Congress on the bounty program.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, also called for answers over the weekend.
“Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region,” Graham tweeted on Saturday. GRU is a reference to the Russian military intelligence agency.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an appearance on Fox News Channel that members of Congress would be briefed later Monday as she attacked news reports based on anonymous sourcing. She said intelligence is “vetted for its veracity and it only goes to the president and the high-level officials when it is deemed as verifiable and credible. So I think it’ll clear up a lot when members of Congress are briefed today.”
Rather than try to tamp down the growing controversy on Monday, Trump spent his morning tweeting about “RINOS” and “stupid people” who oppose him, deriding protesters as “looters” and “agitators,” and complaining about his sinking poll numbers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.