Trump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are demanding answers after a flurry of reports revealed the intelligence community concluded months ago that Russia offered bounties to incentivize Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

The uproar includes a chorus of Republicans who are typically reticent to confront President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE, who has sought to deflect blame and responsibility by arguing he was not briefed on the intelligence that he claims is not credible.

But congressional Republicans and Democrats — calling the reported Russian operation “egregious” and “disturbing” — say Trump’s explanations only raise more questions that the administration must answer immediately.

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“Anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me, should have been briefed immediately to the commander in chief and a plan to deal with that situation,” said Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

Thornberry, who added that the bipartisan “insistence to see the intelligence” is “even stronger nonpublicly” than it has been publicly, echoed other military leaders who have expressed incredulousness that such intelligence did not reach the commander in chief.

On Monday, the White House briefed at least seven Republicans: Thornberry, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulAfghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans US lawmakers express shock at Haitian president's assassination MORE (Texas), and Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (Wyo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Jim Banks (Ind.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (Ill.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Former speed skater launches bid for Stefanik seat House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated MORE (N.Y.), a source familiar with the meeting said. 

A group of House Democrats will also be getting a briefing at the White House on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats warn leadership against excluding House from infrastructure talks Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers MORE (D-Md.) confirmed in a statement Monday evening.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeUFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE and 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 requesting a full House briefing, saying that “Congress and the country need answers now.” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCould Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? Democratic negotiator: 'I believe we will' have infrastructure bill ready on Monday DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) released his own statement, making the same request for the two intelligence leaders to immediately brief senators.

Thornberry and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithSenate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget Back to '70s inflation? How Biden's spending spree will hurt your wallet Military braces for sea change on justice reform MORE (D-Wash.) have also demanded a briefing from the Pentagon for their full committee this week, but Thornberry and a Democratic committee spokesperson said they have not received a response from the Defense Department.

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“If the reports are true, that the administration knew about this Russian operation and did nothing, they have broken the trust of those who serve and the commitment to their families to ensure their loved one’s safety,” Smith said in a statement Monday. “It is imperative that the House Armed Services Committee receive detailed answers from the Department of Defense.”

The Pentagon “has received the invitation” from Smith and Thornberry and “is working to address the request,” department spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said. The department declined to comment on the reports about the intelligence.

On the Senate side, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Senators introduce bipartisan bill to secure critical groups against hackers MORE (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would not comment specifically on the bounty intelligence but said that “the targeting of our troops by foreign adversaries via proxies is a well-established threat.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden backs Cuban protesters, assails 'authoritarian regime' Trump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore MORE (R-Okla.), meanwhile, pledged to “work with President Trump on a strong response” if reports are true.

Both Rubio and Inhofe have faced calls from Democrats to hold hearings. 

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEquilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), an Armed Services Committee member, wrote Rubio and Inhofe a letter on Sunday calling for joint hearings, while fellow committee member Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal 10 books that take readers inside the lives of American leaders Overnight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases MORE (D-Ill.) wrote her own letter to Inhofe requesting an open hearing.

The New York Times first reported Friday 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 coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.  

Trump was briefed on the intelligence, and officials had deliberated potential response options, but the White House had not authorized any further action, the report said.

The Washington Post then reported Sunday that intelligence assessments concluded the Russian bounties led to the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Other outlets have since confirmed the Times reporting, with some newspapers citing British government officials who were briefed by the U.S. last week on the intelligence.

The United States has previously accused Russia of supporting the Taliban by providing weapons, but lawmakers saying incentivizing the murder of U.S. troops would be a heinous escalation.

Statements by the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have disputed that Trump was briefed but have not addressed the credibility of the intelligence.

Shortly after the Post’s Sunday report, Trump claimed the intelligence was not credible.

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“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump tweeted late Sunday night. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Trump, however, stands alone in questioning the accuracy of the intelligence. Later Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there was “no consensus” and “dissenting opinions” within the intelligence community about the credibility of the information, remarks that are markedly different from Trump’s claims.

She did not answer questions about whether elements of the intelligence were included in the President's Daily Brief.

Some of Trump’s staunchest allies are calling for answers about the reports.

“Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-S.C.) tweeted in part.

Prior to getting briefed Monday, Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, tweeted that the “White House must explain” why Trump and Vice President Pence weren’t briefed, who did know and when, and what the response has been “to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable.”

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Banks, though, after the briefing, put the blame on The New York Times, accusing the newspaper of reporting intelligence that was still under investigation and compromising efforts to probe it.

“The real scandal: We’ll likely never know the truth,” Banks tweeted. “Because the @nytimes used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the President. The blood is on their hands.”

The news also comes at a time when Trump’s withdrawal deal with the Taliban remains precarious as high violence levels persist in Afghanistan. Republicans were already skeptical of the agreement, saying the Taliban cannot be trusted to keep a peace deal.

The U.S. military has said it is down to 8,600 troops in line with the agreement to get to that level by mid-July. But military officials have insisted any further drawdown will be based on conditions on the ground that are not yet met, even as Trump pushes for a speedy withdrawal.

Trump has also faced criticism from Democrats about his coziness to Russia, where he has sought to accommodate and praise the country despite its efforts to destabilize the West. 

In June, after the intelligence reportedly came to light within the U.S. government, Trump again sought to invite Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFox News: 'Entirely unacceptable' for 'NSA to unmask Tucker Carlson' Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia next week MORE to the Group of Seven (G-7) summit this year. The move was rejected by other foreign leaders. Russia had previously belonged to the group, then called the Group of Eight, but was kicked out in 2014 after it illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, territory it continues to control today.  

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Trump has also previously indicated that he believes Putin’s denials about interfering in the 2016 presidential election, despite the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin used disinformation campaigns on social media to sow discord and cyberattacks to derail the Clinton campaign during the heated presidential race.

Russia has denied the newest allegations as well.

“You know, maybe I can say it's a little bit rude, but this is 100 percent bullshit. It's an undiplomatic thing, but it's bullshit," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told NBC News on Monday.

With Russia now reportedly accused of offering bounties against U.S. troops, some Republicans are calling for action against Moscow.

“If intelligence reports are verified that Russia or any other country is placing bounties on American troops, then they need to be treated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-N.C.) said.

Morgan Chalfant contributed.