Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday
CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone will brief congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight on intelligence related to suspected Russian bounties on U.S. forces on Thursday.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed at a press briefing that the classified briefing would take place on Thursday. The Gang of Eight includes the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate as well as the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
McEnany told reporters she was unsure whether anyone other than Haspel and Nakasone would participate in Thursday’s briefing.
White House officials and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe earlier this week briefed select lawmakers at the White House, but lawmakers have pressed for more information on reports about alleged bounties offered by Russia to Taliban-linked fighters to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan. Democrats have described their briefing as highly insufficient.
On Wednesday, Ratcliffe, who was a Republican congressman until recently being confirmed as Trump’s spy chief, traveled to Capitol Hill to brief members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Thursday’s briefing will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), both of whom have demanded a full briefing from top intelligence officials for all members of Congress.
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.” Officials have also lashed out at The New York Times for publishing the details about the intelligence and admonished leaks as damaging to the government’s ability to collect and assess intelligence.
The Times first reported on Friday that intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russia secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked insurgents to execute attacks on coalition forces and that Trump had been briefed on the matter but didn’t act in response.
The White House has denied that Trump was personally briefed on the intelligence, saying it hadn’t been verified, but has sidestepped questions about subsequent reports that the material was included in the president’s written intelligence brief, the President’s Daily Brief, earlier this year.
Trump, who has been briefed on the material since news outlets reported on it, on Wednesday dismissed the reports about the bounties as a “hoax.”
Other officials have suggested that the administration is handling the matter seriously. Robert O’Brien, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters earlier Wednesday that the intelligence, while unverified, had been shared with U.S. allies and that Trump would take “strong action” if the information is verified.
“We have been working for several months on options for the president of the United States in the event that this uncorroborated — as the Department of Defense calls it — uncorroborated evidence turned out to be true,” O’Brien said. “It may now be impossible to get to the bottom of this because some government official somewhere decided to leak allegations before we had a chance to get to the bottom of it.”