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 John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' 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 ThornberryRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide House panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year 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 McCaulTrump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House National security adviser says Trump was not briefed on bounty intelligence, condemns leaks Pentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations MORE (Texas), and Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide The Hill's Morning Report - Trump lays low as approval hits 18-month low House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE (Wyo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Jim Banks (Ind.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerPentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Trump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties MORE (Ill.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter Pentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police 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 HoyerAmy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay The Hill's Campaign Report: Primary Day in New Jersey MORE (D-Md.) confirmed in a statement Monday evening.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House Five takeaways from PPP loan data MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Former Trump intelligence officials say they had trouble briefing him on Russia: report GOP senator calls for Russian bounties briefing after reviewing intelligence MORE and 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 requesting a full House briefing, saying that “Congress and the country need answers now.” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? Pompeo: US 'certainly looking at' ban on Chinese social media apps like TikTok Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide 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 SmithHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate 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 Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown 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 RubioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump wants schools to reopen, challenged on 'harmless' COVID-19 remark Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help 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 InhofeRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP 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 GillibrandDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar 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 DuckworthTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Tammy Duckworth hits back at Tucker Carlson: 'Walk a mile in my legs' The Hill's Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Reid Wilson says political winners are governors who listened to scientists and public health experts; 12 states record new highs for seven-day case averages 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 GrahamGraham challenger Harrison raises record-shattering .9 million for SC Senate bid Trump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Bubba Wallace responds to Trump: 'Even when it's HATE from the POTUS.. Love wins' 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 PutinHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Trump administration praises UK sanctions on human rights abusers The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Supreme Court's unanimous decision on the Electoral College 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 TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Cunningham sets Senate fundraising record in North Carolina in challenge to Tillis Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (R-N.C.) said.

Morgan Chalfant contributed.