Democrats expect Russian bounties to be addressed in defense bill
House Democrats expect to address the intelligence showing Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops — as well as President Trump’s handling of the issue — when they consider the annual defense policy bill Wednesday.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) said he expects to offer an amendment with House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) that would, among other things, require the administration provide Congress information about any bounty program and Russia’s involvement in it. It would be part of a proposal Crow and Cheney previously introduced to require the administration make several certifications to Congress before further drawing down in Afghanistan.
In the same call, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) also said he anticipates the bounty issue coming up when the House Armed Services Committee considers the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) later Wednesday but that discussions about exactly how to address it are ongoing.
“This is not the kind of issue that we should have to deal with in the NDAA. This would not be a standard forum for dealing with a case of dereliction of duty by the commander in chief himself,” Moulton said.
“If this does not count as treason, I don’t know what does,” he added about Trump’s response to the intelligence.
The New York Times first reported Friday, followed by several other news outlets, 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 U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.
Trump has sought to deflect blame by claiming he was not briefed on the intelligence. Subsequent reports have said the intelligence was included in written materials known as the President’s Daily Brief.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump called reports about the intelligence a “hoax” and leaned on a statement from the Defense Department that said the Pentagon has not found “corroborating evidence” to back up the allegations.
Select groups of Republicans and Democrats have been briefed on the intelligence by political appointees at the White House, but so far Democratic calls for full congressional briefings by career intelligence officials have not been met.
Democrats have emerged from their briefings blasting Trump’s response to the issue.
“The president called this a hoax publicly. Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
Republicans, though, have largely focused on an alleged split within the intelligence community about the credibility of the intelligence.
Still, some Republicans have continued to express concern after being briefed.
“After today’s briefing with senior White House officials, we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces,” Cheney and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Monday. “We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces.”
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