US President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed as “Fake News” allegations that Russia offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan. He said news stories about the allegations were made up to “damage me and the Republican Party.”
Lawmakers have been demanding answers over the allegations, and Democrats have accused Trump of bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the risk of US soldiers’ lives.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that he had not been briefed on intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties because there wasn’t corroborating evidence. Those intelligence assessments were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.
The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020
“The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party,” Trump tweeted. “The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself.”
The president’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said the intelligence wasn’t brought to the president’s attention initially because it was unverified and there was no consensus among the intelligence community. But that’s a high bar — it’s rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of doubt before it is presented to senior government decision-makers.
O’Brien insisted that the CIA and Pentagon did pursue the lead and briefed international allies. But he echoed the recent White House talking point faulting not Russia but government leakers and the media for making the matter public.
He told “Fox & Friends” that he had prepared a list of retaliatory options for Trump if the intelligence was corroborated.
“We had options ready to go,” said O’Brien. “It may be impossible to get to the bottom of it.”
Trump has been under pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to address the reports.
A group of House Democrats who were briefed at the White House on Tuesday questioned why Trump wouldn’t have been briefed sooner and pushed White House officials to have the president make a strong statement.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of the Democrats who attended the briefing, said it was “inexplicable” why Trump won’t say publicly that he is working to get to the bottom of the issue and why he won’t call out Putin. He said Trump’s defense that he hadn’t been briefed was inexcusable.
“Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our nation ill,” Schiff said of Trump and Putin.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., a freshman and former Navy helicopter pilot and Russia policy officer, said the Democrats told the White House briefers that the president should make a statement.
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