President Donald Trump said that U.S. intelligence officials had “just” told him there was no credible information suggesting Russian intelligence had offered to pay bounties to Taliban militants who killed American soldiers.
Because of this, intelligence officials had not initially reported the allegations to him or Vice President Mike Pence, Trump wrote in a tweet late on 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
Three people briefed on the matter told NBC News that the U.S. had gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officers had offered to pay the bounties. NBC News has not confirmed that the U.S. verified that any such bounty payments were made.
NBC News’ sources were not able to make it clear how persuasive the intelligence is. A source told The Times that the assessment was based in part on interviews with Afghan detainees. That alone would not prove the case, but the U.S. would almost certainly have tried to get communications intercepts from the Russians that shed light. In the past, the National Security Agency has had success penetrating Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU.
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Earlier, Trump tweeted that “nobody briefed or told me,” Vice President Mike Pence or White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the intelligence. He called for The Times to “reveal” its sourcing.
Late on Saturday, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe also denied Trump had been briefed.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said in a statement Saturday that the president and other top officials were not “briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday the president “wants to ignore any allegation against Russia” by denying knowledge of the intelligence.
“The president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” Pelosi said. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and our allies — some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan — had been briefed and accept this report.”
The intelligence had been shared with congressional leaders and the British government, according to NBC News sources.
The president’s latest comments followed a call by Trump ally Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., for Congress to “get to the bottom” of the reports.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is on the Armed Services military personnel subcommittee, also called for a joint congressional investigation in a statement on Sunday.
A senior administration official told NBC News on Monday some members of Congress will be briefed at the White House on the Russia matter.
The Kremlin has not commented on the intelligence reports. However, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has denied the claims it paid militants in Afghanistan.
“This unsophisticated fabrication demonstrates the low intellectual abilities of propagandists in the American intelligence community,” the ministry told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Saturday.
An intelligence official said the report is not particularly surprising given the fraught history between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. armed Afghan fighters with missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was fighting in Afghanistan, part of a CIA covert action that killed many Russians. In 2018, U.S. forces killed a number of Russian mercenaries who were operating with pro-regime forces in Syria.
Kelly O’Donnell, Matthew Bodner , Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker