Top GOP lawmaker calls for answers from White House after report on Russian bounties on US forces

House Republican Conference Chairperson Liz Cheney (Wyo.) is calling for answers from the White House regarding an explosive report that intelligence officials concluded Russia placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in Congress, said on Twitter that if the reporting on the issue is accurate, the Trump administration needs to answer a set of questions about what it knew about the intelligence and how it responded.

She also zeroed in on the White House’s denial that President Trump and Vice President Pence were briefed on the intelligence, saying there needs to be more information provided on why this was the case. 

“If reporting about Russian bounties on US forces is true, the White House must explain: 1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?” she tweeted.

The New York Times reported Friday that U.S. intelligence officials concluded earlier this year that a Russian military unit covertly tried to offer rewards to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan, including U.S. troops. 

The U.S. intelligence apparatus has known for months about the alleged efforts of the Russian military intelligence unit, the Times reported, citing officials briefed on the matter. The report also noted that intel officials briefed Trump on the matter during an interagency meeting in March. A number of responses were discussed; however, the White House has not authorized any, according to the Times. 

The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence pushed back on the Times report in separate statements on Saturday. In a tweet shared Sunday, Trump also fiercely denied receiving an intelligence briefing on Russian bounties. 

“Nobody briefed or told me, Pence, or Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes,” Trump tweeted.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said neither Trump nor Pence was briefed on the matter, adding that “The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate.”

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany echoed that statement, but she did not deny the accuracy of the intelligence. 

“This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” McEnany said.

A Times spokesperson told The Hill on Sunday that the newspaper stands “by our story, the details of which have not been denied by the President’s own National Security agencies.”

Twenty American troops died in combat in Afghanistan in 2019. However, it is unclear how many or what specific cases may have been linked to the bounties, the Times reported.

The report is likely to add scrutiny to Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump has faced criticism throughout his time in the White House for being too accommodating to Putin. For example, at a summit in Helsinki in 2018, Trump questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the previous presidential election. 

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said during a town hall Saturday that the reporting on Russian bounties, if true, would amount to a “shocking revelation.” 

“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, adding that Trump’s “entire presence has been a gift to Putin.” 

Biden vowed to confront Putin and impose “serious costs” on Russia if elected. 

Tags Donald Trump Joe Biden John Ratcliffe Liz Cheney Mark Meadows Vladimir Putin

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