U.S. lawmakers are demanding more information from the White House after a newspaper report said that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump has denied ever being briefed on the intelligence, though The New York Times, which reported on the alleged bounties, said he was told of the matter in March.
Representative Liz Cheney (Republican-Wyoming) said on June 28 that if the allegations in the newspaper report are true, lawmakers need to know “who did know and when?” The White House must explain why the president and vice president weren’t briefed, Cheney said on Twitter.
She also demanded to know what has been done in response to protect U.S. forces and what has been done to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable.
The New York Times, citing anonymous U.S. officials briefed on the matter, reported that a secret unit of Russia’s GRU military intelligence linked to assassination attempts in Europe and other activities offered rewards for successful attacks last year. The newspaper reported on June 26 that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered the bounties to Taliban-linked militants and briefed Trump.
Trump tweeted on June 28 that he was never briefed on the matter.
“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,” the president said on Twitter.
"Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” he wrote.
The White House and the director of national intelligence have denied the report. The Russian Foreign Ministry also dismissed the report and a spokesman for the Taliban leadership said on June 27 that the group "strongly rejects" the allegation.
The newspaper published additional information on June 28 saying U.S. intelligence and special operations forces in Afghanistan alerted superiors as early as January to the suspected Russian plot to pay bounties, citing officials briefed on the matter.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi said June 28 that she was not aware of the assessment and called for Congress to be briefed.
She said the report and Trump's denial is more evidence of the president ignoring allegations against Russia to accommodate Putin.
"There is something very wrong here. But this must have an answer," the top Democrat in the House said on ABC News, adding that Trump has already supported Putin by diminishing U.S. leadership in NATO, reducing U.S. forces in Germany, and inviting Russia back into the Group of Seven (G7). Moscow was a member of the group for a few years, making it the G8, but it was excluded from the club over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
“You would think the minute the president heard of it, he would want to know more, instead of denying that he knew anything,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi and Representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also questioned why Trump was not told about the bounty offer.
"If he was briefed and still wanted Russia back in the G-8, it's even worse," Schiff tweeted.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged tough sanctions against Russia in the defense bill that the Senate will debate this week.
Members Of Congress Demand More Information On Russia's Alleged Offer Of Bounties To Taliban