Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide

The controversy over reports that Russia targeted U.S. troops in Afghanistan is shining a spotlight back on long-running foreign policy divisions between President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE and GOP lawmakers.

The Trump administration provided a round of briefings and closed-door documents in the wake of a flurry of news reports that Moscow offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to target U.S. and coalition forces. That move by administration officials was meant to quell the bipartisan outcry on Capitol Hill, particularly after reports that Trump was previously briefed on the matter. 

While several GOP senators defended Trump, the debacle revived broader concerns among Republicans about the administration’s relationship with Russia.

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Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans NRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia MORE (R-Utah), while declining to discuss classified material, noted that based on publicly reported information, Russia has provided funds to the Taliban, which has killed Americans. 

“We shouldn’t be cozied up to Russia or giving them favors of any kind,” Romney told The Hill. “What we do know is Russia’s been helping the Taliban, the Taliban’s been killing Americans, and that’s all I need to know to know that we should be tough on Russia.”

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be inviting them to the G-7,” he added, referring to the Group of Seven.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseDemocrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP McConnell: 15-20 GOP senators will not vote for any coronavirus deal MORE (R-Neb.) added that the administration needs to be communicating “clearly and aggressively” against Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinTrump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump camp: China, Iran want president to lose because he's 'held them accountable' When will telling the truth in politics matter again? MORE.

"I'm interested in hearing the administration speak clearly about their plans that aren't just hypothetical sanctions sometime out in the future, but what should we be doing now to make the GRU have more doubts about their behavior not just in Afghanistan but more broadly," Sasse said.

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The New York Times first reported on June 26, followed by several other news outlets, that the U.S. 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.

The reports unleashed a firestorm from Democrats, who have called for all-member briefings and new sanctions against Russia.

“Our Armed Forces would be better served if President Trump spent more time reading his daily briefing and less time planning military parades and defending relics of the Confederacy,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet New postmaster general overhauls USPS leadership amid probe into mail delays MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPostal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period A three-trillion dollar stimulus, but Chuck Schumer for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement after a briefing with CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday MORE.

The White House and other administration officials have sought to downplay the intelligence in recent days, saying there was dissent within the intelligence community about it and that it remains “unverified.”

The administration denied that Trump was briefed on the intelligence, but has sidestepped questions about subsequent reports that the material was included in the president’s written intelligence brief, known as the President’s Daily Brief, earlier this year.

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Trump subsequently dismissed the reports about the bounties as a “hoax.”

But several GOP lawmakers indicated that, even after being briefed by administration officials or reviewing classified intelligence, they still had questions and broader concerns about Russia’s activities.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyDunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show MORE (R-Pa.) is calling for an all-senators briefing after reviewing documents made available to all senators in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.

“This information raises many questions and administration officials should come before the Senate and provide a classified briefing and answer questions from all members. If it is concluded that Russia offered bounties to murder American soldiers, a firm American response is required in short order,” he said in a statement.

Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyRepublicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker House GOP pushes back at Trump on changing election date MORE (R-Wyo.), who hasn’t shied away from criticizing Trump on foreign policy, and Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a joint statement after a briefing at the White House that they remained concerned and predicted there would be further briefings.

“It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan. We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces. Congress has no more important obligation than providing for the security of our nation and ensuring our forces have the resources they need,” they said.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he expected lawmakers would be talking with the CIA and National Security Agency after a closed-door meeting with Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE.

“Russia was just accused of putting a bounty on the head of not only American service people, but our allies in some parts of the world. If that's true, a price should be paid for that. And we're going to be working hard in the next days to determine how deep that intelligence goes and how true that allegation is,” he added during a separate Senate floor speech.

Foreign policy, and Trump’s warm tone toward Putin, has been a running point of contention between GOP lawmakers and the president dating back to his days as a candidate, when he put an isolationist foreign policy at the center of his 2016 messaging strategy.

Since winning the White House, some of the biggest points of division between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have been on foreign policy.

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In 2017, Congress passed a Russia sanctions measure over the objections of the White House. Two years later, the Senate included a rebuke, crafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.), of Trump’s Syria policy into a broader piece of legislation. The Senate has also voted multiple times to block part of Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, forcing him to issue vetoes.

Republican senators are also trying to use a mammoth defense bill to limit Trump’s ability to remove U.S. troops from Germany.

Romney, as well as Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters MORE (R-Fla.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineEx-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets USAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (D-N.H.), filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit the administration from reducing the number of active-duty troops in Germany below 34,500 unless the Pentagon can meet several certifications, including that it is in the national security interest of the United States and would not negatively undermine European alliances or NATO. 

Trump has also floated trying to invite Russia back into the G-7 after it was ousted from the then-Group of Eight in 2014 for annexing Crimea and supporting pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine.

McConnell sidestepped questions about Trump's knowledge of the reported Russian bounties but said that he would "absolutely not" be surprised if it was true.

"They are trying to create a problem for us everywhere," he told reporters.

Asked if Trump should invite Russia back to the G-7, he added: "Absolutely not."