Trump confirms he did not raise bounties with Putin
President Trump this week confirmed that he has never confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin with intelligence reports that Russian units paid Taliban-linked militants to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
During a clip from an interview with “Axios on HBO” released Tuesday, Trump said he “never discussed it” with Putin during a phone call last week.
“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said when pressed about why the matter wasn’t raised.
The New York Times reported in June that U.S. intelligence had concluded that the GRU, Moscow’s military intelligence agency, had offered the bounties to Afghan militants connected to the Taliban to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan, including U.S. troops, amid peace talks.
Subsequent reporting from The Washington Post found that intelligence assessments concluded that the payments led to the deaths of U.S. service members, and The Associated Press reported Monday that top White House officials were aware of intelligence indicating that Russia was offering the bounties in early 2019.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later denied that Trump and Vice President Pence were briefed on the intelligence but did not deny that the intelligence was accurate.
The information was reportedly included in at least one of the president’s written briefings in February.
Axios reported that Trump has spoken to Putin at least eight times since the intelligence was reportedly included in his briefing.
Trump told the news outlet that he would have “no problem” asking Putin about the reports but insisted that the intelligence “never reached my desk.”
“You know why? They — intelligence — they didn’t think it was real,” the president said. “They didn’t think it was worthy. If it reached my desk, I would have done something about it.”
It has been previously reported that Trump doesn’t always read the President’s Daily Brief from cover to cover, something he was asked about during his interview with Axios.
“I do, I read a lot. They like to say I don’t read, but I read a lot. I comprehend extraordinarily well, probably better than anybody you’ve interviewed in a really long time,” the president said.
Trump initially called the reporting on the Russian bounties a “hoax,” and his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, agreed with the sentiment, insisting Trump would take “strong action” if the allegations were verified.
“I think what is a hoax is the initial reporting, and I believe this was in The New York Times, that the president had been briefed about this unverified and uncorroborated intelligence and chose not to take action on it,” O’Brien said. “That was a hoax, and there is no question about it.”
The Russian government and Taliban officials have denied reports of the alleged bounties.
The Department of Defense said last month that it had not yet validated the reported intelligence.
However, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Fox News released reports confirming the Times’s reporting.
Trump has been criticized for being too friendly toward Putin since the start of his presidency.
Most notably, he doubted American intelligence during a 2018 press conference alongside Putin in Helsinki, Finland, where he publicly questioned U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
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