A bipartisan group of congressional leaders is demanding the Trump administration explain what it knew about reports US intelligence concluded Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US troops.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday called on Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel to provide all House members with a briefing on the intelligence, while Senate Republicans say they are seeking more information from the Trump administration, too.
“Congress and the country need answers now,” wrote Pelosi, a Democrat from California. “Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable. The Administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners.”
The swift response underscored the congressional push for information about the US intelligence — and whether President Donald Trump was briefed on the matter, which Trump denied. Pelosi also said that the “Gang of Eight,” the congressional leaders who are briefed on sensitive intelligence matters, were not told about the bounties offered to the Taliban. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees declined to comment.
This weekend, The New York Times, CNN and other news outlets reported Russian intelligence officers offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as rewards if they killed US or UK troops there. While it’s unclear whether Trump was aware, there have been recent discussions at high levels between the US and the UK to share the intelligence, two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Monday members of Congress would be briefed, but it’s not clear who would receive the briefing or when it would take place.
Trump described the reporting as “possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax.”
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump tweeted Sunday evening. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”
In addition to the all-House briefing Pelosi requested, Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said he has sought additional information.
“We’ve known for a long time that Putin is a thug and a murderer, and if the allegations reported in the New York Times are true, I will work with President Trump on a strong response. My number-one priority is the safety of our troops,” Inhofe tweeted Monday. “Right now, though, we need answers. I have asked the administration to share what it knows, and I expect to know more in the coming days.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Trump, said he expected the Trump administration “to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports.”
And Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, tweeted over the weekend that if Russians did attempt to bribe Taliban fighters, “the White House must explain … Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the (president’s daily brief)?”
“Who did know and when?” Cheney tweeted. “What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”
House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith and Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the panel, have requested a briefing, committee spokeswoman Monica Matoush said.
“The US intelligence community reportedly informed the Trump administration of this assessment as early as late March. Acting on this information could have saved lives,” Smith, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement Monday. “Why didn’t the President receive a briefing on such a highly sensitive subject? Was this information included in the Presidential Daily briefing? If not, why not? Was this information shared with our military leaders?”
Thornberry, a Texas Republican, told reporters on Monday he was concerned if the President was not briefed on intelligence that US troops could have been endangered.
“What the President and the DNI have said is that the President was not briefed, which to me is a very concerning statement,” Thornberry said. “I don’t know the credibility of the information because I have not been briefed, but anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me should have been briefed immediately to the commander-in-chief and a plan to deal with that situation.”