Trump's a traitor: The bounty should be on his head (metaphorically speaking)

Is the Russian bounty scandal the final nail in Donald Trump's (political) coffin? It certainly should be

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published July 4, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

November 28, 2019, US President Donald Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. (Getty Images)
November 28, 2019, US President Donald Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

The first story of the rest of Donald Trump's life was published last Friday in the New York Times, revealing that the Russian intelligence agency known as the GRU has been paying bonuses to Taliban fighters to kill Americans, and that this intelligence had been reported to Trump and had been known at least since March. The story was subsequently confirmed by the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the AP.

But at least as interesting as the facts in the story was this gem a few paragraphs down: "Spokespeople at the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment," the Times reported, pretty much giving us a list of who in government wants Donald Trump out of office. Remember that old saying, "When they tell you it's not about sex, it's about sex." Well, when newspapers tell you who refuses to comment on a story, they're telling you who leaked the story to them in the first place and hinting strongly at their motive. 

The White House took more than 24 hours to respond on Saturday evening. Saying she wasn't commenting on the "merit of the alleged intelligence," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany assured us that "Neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence." Thus began what would become an odd, drawn-out series of denials, non-denials, denials of denials, and explanations and revisions of previously denied denials. Trump's defense of his ignorance about the bounties was immediately clocked as the "Sergeant Schultz" defense: "I know nothing. I know nothing!" 

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that "United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan." 

Trump knew in early January. Boom!

By Monday, the New York Times was reporting that Trump had been given a "written briefing" in February that concluded the Russians had paid bounties on dead Americans. Then suddenly, the dates that the Trump administration had known about the bounties began to be pushed back. There was a report Trump had been briefed in December of 2019. Then the AP reported that intelligence about the bounties had been given to the White House in "early 2019" and that "national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019." 

Trump knew in March 2019. Zang!

Trump had continued to do business as usual with Vladimir Putin throughout the time he was being briefed about the Russian plot to pay for American dead bodies. In fact, he went beyond business as usual and advocated that Russia be readmitted to an expanded G8. 

By Monday evening, there were reports by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Trump had spoken to Putin on the phone three times within three weeks recently and that these calls had been kept secret. It was already known that Trump had spoken with Putin on Dec. 29, March 30, May 17 and June 1. The secret calls were made in a burst of dictator chat on April 9, 10 and 12.

Trump's secret calls to Putin. Zing!

The source of the news about the secret calls is especially surprising given that Trump lackey Michael Pack had just been put in charge of the Agency for Global Media and had moved quickly to clean house within his new command, including firing the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Motive for leaks. Twang!

The Trump administration sent a murderer's row of top White House officials to Capitol Hill on Monday to brief a select gaggle of House Republicans, trying to push the story that the intelligence had not been "verified" and thus had not "risen to the level of the President." Select House Democrats were similarly briefed the next day. It didn't go well. Democrats wanted to know if Trump wasn't briefed, why, and if he was briefed, why he didn't do something.

On Wednesday, The New York Times backed up its previous reports with this: "American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia's military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence." 

Secret Russian bank accounts. Zoom!

On Thursday, the Times was out with a story naming an Afghan citizen (who had been paid as an American contractor) as the man who helped move money between Russian and Taliban bank accounts through the shadowy Hawala system, a method of behind-the-scenes financial transfers described as "layered and complex" according to the Times. "Prizes of as much as $100,000 per killed soldier were offered for American and coalition targets." 

This story just keeps growing bigger and bigger. Every day there are more leaks. Every day there is a new, more specific, revelation. Every day the story gets worse for Trump. 

By Wednesday morning, Trump couldn't take it anymore. At 7:09 a.m., he reverted to type and called the whole thing … wait for it … a "hoax." "The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party," he tweeted. "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!"

There it is, folks. Trump has enemies at the Pentagon, enemies in the intelligence community, enemies at the State Department, enemies inside his own White House, and he wants their names! 

Trump's support among senior military leaders is gone. It finally reached the point where the Pentagon in effect told Trump "no" when it comes to using active duty troops against American protesters. The intelligence community has taken the gloves off. They knew as far back as the middle of 2016 that the Russians were helping Trump's presidential campaign, and they haven't been shy about their opposition to his cozying up to Putin.

The leaks surrounding this story have been nonstop, including revelations from within Trump's own White House about the secret calls with Putin. The whole thing is turning into a kind of soft coup against Trump. Retired generals, retired secretaries of defense, retired national security advisers and retired State Department officials like Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor may not have conspired together, but they have all decided to tell the truth about what Trump is doing to undercut our national security with his connections to Vladimir Putin.

It's getting serious out there, folks. The word "treason," as in giving aid and comfort to the enemy, is being thrown around not only on op-ed pages but in Congress. This may turn into yet another Ukraine aid scandal, in which Trump commits impeachable offenses and simply gets away with it because Republicans refuse to confront his treachery, let alone  do anything about it. 

But he's surrounded by people in important, powerful positions who are privy to big, important secrets, and they want him out of office. With their leaks about the Russian bounties, they have in effect put a bounty on Trump's head. He has been wounded by the coronavirus, he's wounded by the economy, he's wounded by Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the streets and he's getting grievously wounded by this. 

You know he's desperate when he starts calling a real threat to the lives of our soldiers fighting on foreign soil a "hoax." Trump is a threat to our national security. He's not a president. He's a co-conspirator with dictators who are enemies of this country. He's a traitor, and he needs to go

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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Afghanistan Commentary Donald Trump Editor's Picks Russia Russian Bounties U.s. Military