The Trump administration, as well as its former intelligence chief, pushed back hard this weekend over a New York Times report claiming President Donald Trump had been briefed on an intelligence assessment that said a Russian military unit was doling out bounties to terrorists in Afghanistan when the terrorists killed members of the U.S.-led coalition.
The Times, much of whose reporting was confirmed by The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, said it learned of the intelligence assessment from “officials briefed on the matter” who it did not name.
The Times report said it was uncertain which, if any, of the 20 American deaths in Afghanistan last year might have been linked to bounties paid by the Russians. The report said “Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money.”
The intelligence assessment upon which The Times based its report was discussed in March by the National Security Council, according to the newspaper, which also claimed that Trump was briefed on the allegation.
Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell lashed out after Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California attacked Trump over the claim that the president had been briefed on the matter.
“I never heard this,” he tweeted 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.”
I never heard this. 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. https://t.co/403X9AVGAC
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 27, 2020
On Sunday morning, Trump fired off angry tweets denying the claim made by The Times.
“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” he tweeted.
“Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration,” Trump added. “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’?” he tweeted, adding a later tweet casting doubt on the accuracy of the report.
…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”?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
The Fake News @ nytimes must reveal its “anonymous” source. Bet they can’t do it, this “person” probably does not even exist! https://t.co/pdg4AjybOG
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
The allegation became political fodder after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden used it to criticize Trump.
“Not only has he failed to sanction or 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,” Biden said during a virtual town hall event, according to The Times.
“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale. It’s 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,” the former vice president added.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, said the truth about the allegations regarding Russia’s actions needs to be ascertained:
I expect the Trump Administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 27, 2020
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement pushing back against the claim that Trump was briefed, although she did not reject the allegations against Russia.
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” she said in a statement.
“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” McEnany added.
“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,” the statement said.
However, The Times was adamant.
“We stand by our story, the details of which have not been denied by the President’s own National Security agencies,” a New York Times spokesperson told The Hill.
But Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe denied that Trump or Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed on the bounty allegations.
“The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate.” (2/2)
— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) June 28, 2020
“The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.
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