President Donald Trump claimed that he was not briefed on intelligence that Russia offered Afghan militants bounties to kill American and Western troops, because it was not "credible" even though it was shared with Congress and U.S. allies.
American intelligence officials concluded months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American and coalition troops during peace talks to end the two-decades-long war, The New York Times first reported Friday.
The intelligence was briefed to Trump and was discussed by the National Security Council in March, according to the report, which was independently confirmed by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Associated Press. The White House has yet to authorize a response.
The Times later reported that intelligence officers and Special Operations forces told their superiors as early as January that they suspected Russia was offering militants bounties. After interrogating captured militants, intelligence officials became convinced that Russia had offered bounties.
Russia and the Taliban both denied the report. Trump on Sunday claimed that U.S. intelligence "just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me."
Trump suggested the report was just another "fabricated Russia Hoax" to "make Republicans look bad."
But intelligence officials told the Associated Press that they have been investigating a 2019 car attack in Afghanistan, which killed three Marines and wounded three others. Though Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, intelligence agencies are probing whether it was linked to the bounties.
A team of Navy SEALs raided a Taliban outpost earlier this year and discovered about $500,000 that "solidified the suspicions of the American intelligence community that the Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and linked associations," according to the AP.
The Washington Post also reported that the bounties "are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members."
Though Trump claimed that the intelligence was not credible, it was shared with congressional leaders and the British government, NBC News reported. It was unclear if any bounty was actually paid, according to the outlet.
Intelligence officials told the AP that Trump was briefed on the matter earlier this year despite his denials. The CIA confirmed the intelligence, according to The Post.
"This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score — denies being briefed," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told ABC News on Sunday. "But he wants to ignore. He wants to bring them back to the G-8 despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, despite what they yielded to [Russian President Vladimir Putin] in Syria, despite [Putin's] intervention into our election, which is well documented by our intelligence community, and despite now possibly this allegation, which we should have been briefed on."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally who golfed Sunday with the president, tweeted that he expected the administration "to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports."
Graham added that it was "imperative Congress get to the bottom" of the Russian offer "to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region."
If the reporting is true, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the No. 3 Republican in the House, tweeted that the White House must explain "why weren't the president or vice president briefed" and "what has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable."
The White House said some members of Congress would be briefed Monday on the matter.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that intelligence is "vetted for its veracity, and it only goes to the president and the high-level officials when it is deemed as verifiable and credible. So I think it'll clear up a lot when members of Congress are briefed today."
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has already seized on the story on the campaign trail, hitting out at the president's Russia relations Saturday during a virtual town hall.
"His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale," he said. "It's 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. It's a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas."