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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 TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged 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 RomneyTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike Media circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden 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 SasseBen SasseTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Media circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (R-Neb.) added that the administration needs to be communicating “clearly and aggressively” against Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFor better or worse: Which way will US-Saudi relations go under Biden? How to rethink Russia sanctions Tucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon 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.

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.

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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 PelosiHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Capitol review to recommend adding more fencing, 1,000 officers: report MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement after a briefing with CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community 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.

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 ToomeyPhilly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote Toomey on Trump vote: 'His betrayal of the Constitution' required conviction 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 CheneyTrump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged Tomi Lahren says CPAC attendees clearly want Trump to run in 2024 Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars MORE (R-Wyo.), who hasn’t shied away from criticizing Trump on foreign policy, and Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto 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 BluntPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack 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 RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official 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.

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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.

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 McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now 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 GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDeSantis derides 'failed Republican establishment' at CPAC The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Mehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show MORE (R-Fla.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign Can Palestine matter again? Senate signals broad support for more targeted coronavirus relief checks 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.

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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."