White House denies it was briefed about Afghan militant bounties
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied a Friday report from The New York Times that President Trump and Vice President Pence were briefed on American intelligence findings that Russian military operatives offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan, including US troops, amid peace talks.
Citing White House officials briefed on the matter, the Times reported that Trump and Pence were briefed on the intelligence findings and that the White House’s National Security Council held a meeting about the issue in late March.
McEnany denied any such briefing, saying in a statement Saturday, “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”
She said that the U.S. “receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny.” She added that she is not denying the intelligence exists but said the president was not briefed on it.
“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.
The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., has called the Times report “fake news“ and “baseless.” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied the allegations to the Times, calling them a “baseless” effort to defame them.
The work from the newspaper resulted in a renewed push among lawmakers to sanction Russia. The president has doubted American intelligence in the past, most notably during a 2018 press conference alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, where he publicly rejected U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Saturday that he “immediately reached out to the Administration” to confirm the allegations.
“If accurate, the Administration must take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable,” McCaul said.
LR @RepMcCaul: “I have seen the press reports that a Russian military intelligence unit offered Afghan militants bounties to kill American troops. If true, it would only deepen my grave concerns about the Putin regime’s malicious behavior globally.
— House Foreign Affairs GOP (@HouseForeignGOP) June 27, 2020
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to put his bill sanctioning Russia for a vote on the chamber floor.
“If Trump refuses to hold Putin accountable for funding terrorism against US troops in Afghanistan, then Congress must again step up,” Menendez tweeted on Saturday.
“My Russia sanctions legislation passed out of SFRC in December and is waiting for a vote. McConnell must act this week,” he added.
If Trump refuses to hold Putin accountable for funding terrorism against US troops in Afghanistan, then Congress must again step up.
My Russia sanctions legislation passed out of SFRC in December and is waiting for a vote. McConnell must act this week. https://t.co/UXuQhFmoy7
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) June 27, 2020
In February, the U.S. and Taliban signed a historic agreement in Doha, Qatar, laying the groundwork for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and signaling a potential end to America’s longest-fought war.
CNN reported on Saturday that the administration was “close to finalizing” a decision to remove an additional 4,000 troops by the fall.
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