Democrats hit Trump for handling of Russian bounty allegations after White House briefing

House Democrats on Tuesday hit President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE for denying knowledge of intelligence that Russia offered bounties to incentivize Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, rather than vowing to get to the bottom of a matter that suggests U.S. service members are at risk.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, a group of Democrats who had just been briefed at the White House questioned why Trump's advisers did not make sure Trump saw the intelligence as he kept up communications with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussia says coronavirus vaccine will be ready for doctors in two weeks Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Fauci: 'I seriously doubt' Russia's coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective MORE.

"It makes no sense whatsoever for the President and the administration not to call out Putin," House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Trump reportedly considering replacing Esper after election | FBI, Air Force investigating after helicopter shot at in Virginia | Watchdog says UK envoy made inappropriate comments on religion, race, sex Watchdog: Trump's UK envoy made inappropriate remarks on religion, race, sex Allegations roil progressive insurgent's House bid MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the podium, surrounded by other physically-distanced Democrats. "I don't understand what it is with the president's infatuation with Putin."


Democrats also stressed that the briefing at the White House is not a substitute for a full House briefing and said they want intelligence professionals from the CIA and NSA to conduct the briefings, rather than officials like White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Overnight Health Care: Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate | Top Fed official says quick reopenings damaged recovery from coronavirus | Nearly three dozen health experts object to HHS coronavirus database Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate MORE, national security adviser Robert O'Brien, Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffePat Fallon wins GOP nomination in race to succeed DNI Ratcliffe Hillicon 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 MORE.

"The right people to give the briefings really were not in the room," said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffNewsom says he has already received a number of pitches for Harris's open Senate seat Here's who could fill Kamala Harris's Senate seat if she becomes VP Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

"We need to hear from the heads of the intelligence agencies about how they assess the allegations that have been made publicly, what can they tell us about the truth or falsity of these allegations, what can they tell us about steps they are undertaking or have undertaken to vet any information that they may have," he added

"I think we knew the White House perspective, what we need to know is the intelligence perspective," said Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerLawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump to Democratic negotiators: 'They know my phone number' House will be out of session for additional week in September MORE (D-Md.), the House Majority Leader, adding that they did not receive "any new substantive information."

Democrats, who were limited to what they could say about the intelligence, said they forcefully disagree with President Trump that the allegation about the rewards is a "hoax."


"Nothing in the briefing that we've just received led me to believe it is a hoax," said Hoyer.

The briefing at the White House comes a day after the White House briefed House Republicans about the intelligence, a move that came as the Trump administration faced bipartisan pressure to explain what Trump knew about the threat — or why he didn't.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Monday denied that Trump was "personally" briefed on the reported bounties, noting that he was not briefed because of a lack of consensus and “dissenting opinions” within the intelligence community about the credibility of the information. She did not answer questions as to whether Trump received elements of the intelligence in his Daily Presidential Briefing.

Citing officials, The New York Times then reported late Monday that Trump was provided a written briefing in late February.

Democrats suggested the White House has no reason to claim Trump didn't see the intelligence. If he didn't read the briefing, it fell to his advisers to ensure he was aware of the facts, however he best takes in information, they said.


"If a president doesn't read the briefs, it doesn't work to give him a product and not tell him what's in it," Schiff said, noting that that he is speaking generally. "It's not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has. If the president doesn't read, he doesn't read. They should know that by now."

Schiff speculated that maybe Trump's advisers were afraid to give the president information that he doesn't want to hear, while Hoyer quoted former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Ex-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon MORE in saying that it is "inconceivable" that matter as grave as U.S. troops being killed did not reach the president.

Others, however, expressed skepticism about the White House claims that the president didn't know.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales Lawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response MORE (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said based off what he heard at the White House briefing, “it seems to me like [Trump] did know about it.”

“Now maybe he was aware of the allegation, looked at it and said, there's nothing to this,” Smith said during a separate phone call with reporters during the press conference. “It's hard for me to believe based on the way it was presented that the president knew nothing about it as he stated.”

Rebecca Kheel contributed.