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 TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report 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.


Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate 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 SasseGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Pence: Trump and I may never 'see eye to eye' on events of Jan. 6 White House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Neb.) added that the administration needs to be communicating “clearly and aggressively” against Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCyber agency says SolarWinds hack could have been deterred by simple security measures What Biden and Putin didn't discuss A balance of pragmatism and agendas shaped the U.S.-Russia summit 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.


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 PelosiDemocrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit Maria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting 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 ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote 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 CheneyLiz Cheney hired security after death threats: report Cheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas 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 BluntCongress barrels toward debt cliff Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 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 RatcliffeCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five things to know about the new spotlight on UFOs Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible 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.

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 McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight 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 Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate MORE (R-Fla.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsCutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push This week: Senate set for voting rights fight Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle 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."