President Trump said late Sunday that he was not told of intelligence that a Russian military spy unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan, including U.S. troops, because U.S. intelligence officials did not find it credible.
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump said in a tweet, referring to Vice President Pence. He added that he considers such reports “possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax” spread by the “Fake News … wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”
Earlier Sunday, Trump had tweeted that he had not been briefed about the intelligence, but he did little to clarify whether the administration was denying that the assessment existed or simply denying that he knew anything about it.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program.
The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the people said.
Asked to comment, John Ullyot, a National Security Council spokesman, said that “the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.” The CIA and the Defense and State departments declined to comment.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of the program.
Trump’s late-night tweet on Sunday came in response to one by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of many lawmakers from both parties who called on the Trump administration to provide an explanation of what had transpired.
“Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region,” Graham tweeted.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a television appearance Monday morning on Fox News that lawmakers would soon be briefed on the situation later in the day, adding, “I think that will clear up a lot of the false reporting.”
McEnany said media reports have been based on “alleged intelligence that was never briefed to the president of the United States,” and she criticized the media for “spewing out” false information.
McEnany said as a matter of practice, Trump is briefed only on intelligence that is found to be “verifiable and credible.”