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Top Senate Democrats request Esper, Pompeo testify over Russian bounties reports

Top Senate Democrats request Esper, Pompeo testify over Russian bounties reports
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Top Democrats are requesting that Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report MORE and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperActing Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia Overnight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition MORE testify over multiple reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (N.J.) and Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (R.I.) — the top Democrats on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, respectively — along with Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (Ill.) sent a letter to the two administration officials on Tuesday, asking for details on how and when they learned about the intelligence. 

"U.S. service members raise their right hands to protect and defend the United States. They deserve a Commander in Chief who will respond forcefully if bounties are put on them by enemies of the United States. Given the grave nature of these allegations, we request that you appear before the Senate this week to address these questions," the Democratic senators wrote. 

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The New York Times first reported Friday that the intelligence community concluded months ago that a unit within the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked militants for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.  

Trump was briefed on the intelligence, and officials had deliberated potential responses, but the White House had not authorized any further action, the report said.

The Democratic senators want to know when Pompeo and Esper first found out about the intelligence reports. They also want to know if Pompeo, during his conversations with Russian officials, tried to verify the intelligence and who within the State Department was aware of it.

From Esper, Democrats also specifically want to know if he is aware of any U.S. casualties in Afghanistan due to bounties placed by Russian intelligence and if protection measures were put in place.

Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on July 9, Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump rails against Twitter in late night tweets The pandemic and a 'rainy day fund' for American charity House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races MORE (D-Wash.) told reporters in response to a question from The Hill. 

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A Pentagon statement late Monday night said the department continues to evaluate the intelligence but that it has not “to date" found "corroborating evidence.”

The White House has briefed groups of lawmakers, including House Republicans, on Monday and had separate briefings with House Democrats and Senate Republicans on Tuesday. 

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) is asking for a Senate-wide briefing. 

"In the short term, we need an agreement from the administration to conduct an immediate all-members briefing on the reports that Russia placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Senators need to hear directly from CIA Director [Gina] Haspel on these reports as soon as possible," Schumer said from the Senate floor on Tuesday.