WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Sunday denied that he had been briefed on reported U.S. intelligence that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan, and he appeared to minimize the allegations against Moscow.
American intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian officials offered rewards for successful attacks on American service-members last year, at a time when the U.S. and Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war, according to The New York Times.
Trump, in a Sunday morning tweet, said “Nobody briefed or told me” or Vice President Mike Pence or chief of staff Mark Meadows about “the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians.”
"Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” he said.
The White House had issued a statement Saturday denying that Trump or Pence had been briefed on such intelligence. “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
Trump's director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, also said neither the president nor vice president was “ever briefed on any intelligence alleged” in the Times' report and he said the White House statement was “accurate.”
Trump's tweet came a day after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said that the report, if accurate, was a “truly shocking revelation” about the commander in chief and his failure to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.
Russia called the report “nonsense."
"This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
A Taliban spokesman said the militants “strongly reject this allegation” and are not “indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country.”
John Bolton, a former national security adviser who was forced out by Trump last September and has now written a tell-all book about his time at the White House, said Sunday that "it is pretty remarkable the president’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it, one asks, why would he do something like that?”
Bolton told NBC's “Meet the Press” that he thinks the answer "may be precisely because active Russian aggression like that against the American service members is a very, very serious matter and nothing’s been done about it, if it’s true, for these past four or five months, so it may look like he was negligent. But of course, he can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a member of the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders briefed on sensitive intelligence matters, told ABC's “This Week” that she had not been been informed about the reported bounties and requested a report to Congress on the matter.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed. Whether he is or not, his administration knows and our allies -- some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan had been briefed and accept this report,” she said.
The Times, citing unnamed officials familiar with the intelligence, said the findings were presented to Trump and discussed by his National Security Council in late March. Officials developed potential responses, starting with a diplomatic complaint to Russia, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the report said.
Trump responded to Biden on Twitter, saying “Russia ate his and Obama’s lunch during their time in office"
But it was the Obama administration, along with international allies, that suspended Russia from the Group of Eight after its unilateral annexation of Crimea from Ukraine — a move that drew widespread condemnation.
Biden criticized Trump for “his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself” before Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump tweeted that “Nobody's been tougher” on Russia than his administration.