Lawmakers from both parties are calling on the Trump administration to provide information on what the president knew and when regarding a report, initially published by the New York Times and confirmed by other outlets, that Russian operatives offered Taliban fighters bounties on American soldiers.
The original Times report on Friday sparked a political firestorm, with Democrats decrying President Trump’s lack of response to an extreme act of provocation by the Russians as part of a perceived pattern of softness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The White House on Saturday denied the report’s claim that Trump was briefed on the bounties in March, and Trump dismissed the report wholesale on Sunday, tweeting that it was, “reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.”
But that didn’t satisfy lawmakers in Congress, with House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeting, “If reports are true that Russia offered a bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Trump wasn’t briefed, that’s a problem,” and asking “What will it take to get Trump to abandon the fiction that Putin is our friend?”
But it isn’t just Democrats calling for answers; Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the number three Republican in the House, tweeted a list of questions the White House must answer if the reporting is true.
“1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the [President’s Daily Briefing]?” She asked, “2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”
The report, from the Times’ Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz, claims that American intelligence officials discovered that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban militants for killing coalition forces, including American troops, in Afghanistan. The report also alleges that Trump was presented with a “menu of potential options” to respond after he was briefed in March, but that Trump instead chose to sit on the information. Trump pushed for Russia to be allowed to attend the G7 summit in May, after he was allegedly briefed on the bounties.
The Russian embassy in the U.S. strongly denied the Times report, calling it “another piece of fake news, launched in the media space by the #US intelligence community.”
Trump’s presidency was bogged down for years by allegations that his friendliness with Russia reached the point of collusion. While the Mueller investigation did not result in legal consequences, it nonetheless inflicted political damage. With the election less than five months away, another drawn-out scandal relating to Russia could serve as a further drag on Trump, who already trails former Vice President Joe Biden badly in the polls.
I am a news desk reporter covering politics and the 2020 election. I have previously worked for MSNBC and Chronogram Magazine. I attended Vassar College and the London