The White House fired back after a New York Times article claimed President Donald Trump had been briefed concerning allegations from intelligence analysts that Russia was paying bounties when members of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed by terrorists loyal to the Taliban.
Trump and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany were joined by Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana in denouncing the paper.
According to The Times, a Russian military intelligence unit last year covertly offered the bounties.
The Times was uncertain which, if any, American deaths in Afghanistan might be linked to bounties paid by the Russians. The report said “Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them” collected some bounty cash. The intelligence assessment was discussed in March by the National Security Council, according to The Times, and Trump was briefed on the allegation.
Trump said the report that he was briefed should go in the bin labeled “fake news.”
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!” the president tweeted Sunday.
Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!! https://t.co/cowOmP7T1S
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2020
On Monday, the White House arranged a briefing on the issue for members of Congress. Afterward, Banks tweeted his disgust with the Times.
“I just left the White House where I was briefed by CoS @MarkMeadows and top intelligence officials. They discussed @nytimes’ hit piece falsely accusing @realDonaldTrump of ignoring reports that Russia placed bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan,” he tweeted.
“The real scandal: We’ll likely never know the truth… Because the @nytimes used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the President. The blood is on their hands.
“Having served in Afghanistan during the time the alleged bounties were placed, no one is angrier about this than me. Now it’s impossible to finish the investigation. All b/c the @nytimes will do anything to damage @realdonaldtrump, even if it means compromising nat’l security.
“Sad, but many in the media & Congress rushed to judgement before learning the whole story. We should treat anonymously sourced @nytimes stories about Russia w/ skepticism.”
The real scandal: We’ll likely never know the truth… Because the @nytimes used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the President. The blood is on their hands.
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) June 29, 2020
Sad, but many in the media & Congress rushed to judgement before learning the whole story. We should treat anonymously sourced @nytimes stories about Russia w/ skepticism.
Here’s a fact: No President in my lifetime has been tougher on Russia than @realDonaldTrump.
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) June 29, 2020
McEnany, during her daily media briefing on Monday, explained that talk of bounties could not be proven.
“The U.S. receives thousands of reports a day on intelligence, and they are subject to strict scrutiny. While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, NSA — 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,” she said.
“There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations, and, in effect, there are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regards to the veracity of what’s being reported. And the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.”
Much of the rest of the briefing consisted of reporters asking McEnany about whether Trump had been briefed. After multiple questions, the press secretary attacked the source of the report.
“I would also note that, for those of you that are always taking The New York Times at their word, they erroneously reported that the president was briefed on this. He was not briefed on this and neither was the vice president,” she said.
“So before buying into, full-fledged, a narrative from The New York Times that falsely stated something about the president, that you would wait for the facts to come out and note once again: There’s no consensus in the intel community, and, in fact, there are dissenting opinions from some within it,” she said.
As reporters continued to probe, McEnany hit back harder.
“I would just point you back to the absolutely irresponsible decision of The New York Times to falsely report that he was briefed on something that he, in fact, was not briefed on. And I really think that it’s time for The New York Times to step back and ask themselves why they’ve been wrong — so wrong, so often,” she said.
She would go on to list some specific examples.
“The New York Times falsely claimed Paul Manafort asked for polling data to be passed along to Oleg Deripaska before having to issue a correction. In June of 2017, The New York Times falsely wrote all 17 intel agencies had agreed on Russian interference, before having to issue a correction that it was only four agencies. In 2017, February of that year, New York Times published a story claiming Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence — which even James Comey had said was almost entirely wrong,” McEnany said.
“New York Times published a column in March of 2019 by a former Times executive editor that asserted the Trump campaign and Russia ‘had an overarching deal’ that the ‘quid of help in the campaign against Hillary for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.’ That’s what we call the Russia hoax, which was investigated for three years with taxpayer dollars before ultimately getting an exoneration in the Mueller report,” she added.
“It is inexcusable, the failed Russia reporting of The New York Times. And I think it’s time that The New York Times, and also The Washington Post, hand back their Pulitzers.”
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