A new Russia-involved scandal has erupted over a New York Times report claiming that the U.S. concluded “months ago” that a Russian spy unit linked to past assassination attempts covertly offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan last year to kill Americans — and President Trump knew about it. “The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March,” the Times reported, citing unnamed officials.
The report prompted an “outraged” rebuke from Joe Biden, who called the administration’s response a “betrayal” to the country, but President Trump and other White House officials say that he was never briefed on the matter, suggesting either false claims by sources or members of the intelligence committee withholding information from the president.
“The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year,” The New York Times reported Friday. “Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said.”
Citing officials speaking on condition of anonymity, the Times specifically states that Trump and his National Security Council were allegedly briefed on the matter, but the White House has yet to authorize any action:
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said. …
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence and internal deliberations. They said the intelligence had been treated as a closely held secret, but the administration expanded briefings about it this week — including sharing information about it with the British government, whose forces are among those said to have been targeted.
The report sparked massive media buzz and quick backlash from Trump’s political opponent, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
“The truly shocking revelation that if the Times report is true, and I emphasize that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months, according to the Times, and done worse than nothing,” Biden said during a virtual townhall event Saturday, as reported by The Associated Press.
“Not only has he failed to sanction and impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” said Biden. Trump’s actions after allegedly being briefed, said Biden, is a “betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation — to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”
But Trump and other White House officials say the Times’ report is at least partly false.
“I never heard this,” tweeted former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell in response to a question about the report from Democrat Rep. Ted Lieu (CA) on Saturday. “And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence. You clearly don’t understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also addressed the report. “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,” she said in a statement Saturday.
Trump responded early Sunday. “Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President Mike Pence], or Chief of Staff [Mark Meadows] about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News [New York Times],” Trump tweeted. “Everybody is denying it [and] there have not been many attacks on us. Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine — Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their ‘source’?”
In a follow-up post Sunday, Trump said that intelligence officials just informed him that they did not report the information to him because they did not find it credible. “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or [Vice President Pence]. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News [NYT], wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!” Trump wrote.
Since publishing its report Friday, the Times has updated it with more details but has not retracted the claim that Trump was briefed. On Monday, The Associated Press published a new report citing intelligence sources speaking on condition of anonymity claiming “that Trump was briefed on the bounty matter earlier this year.”
This article and its titles has been revised for clarity.
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