The White House on Monday insisted there is “no consensus” that the intelligence that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops is accurate, which is why, it said, the issue was never flagged to President Trump or Vice President Pence, despite reports to the contrary by outlets including The New York Times.
The comments from the administration come after a Sunday night tweet from Trump insisting he had not been informed of the reports because the intelligence community “did not find this info credible” and amid mounting pressure from Congress to get to the bottom of whether Trump knew of the alleged bounties, and if so, why there was no known retribution against Russia.
“POTUS was never briefed on this issue because there is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations,” a senior administration official told Fox News, indicating that the intelligence did not make it up the chain of command to the president because intelligence department heads did not agree on the credibility of the information or that it had been verified to the degree necessary to flag to Trump.
“The veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated,” a National Security Council spokesman further told Fox News.
A senior official also told CBS News the bounty allegations did not appear in the president’s daily brief, a regular summary of national security issues delivered to the president and some Cabinet secretaries. Multiple national security sources confirm to Fox News that so-called “raw” intelligence rarely gets included in this briefing.
Russia has denied that the country issued bounties against American soldiers. TASS, the state news agency, reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry called the reports “information fakes.” A Taliban spokesman also denied any truth to the report.
But that did not stop pressure from Congress from ramping up in recent days.
“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,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who is typically a staunch defender of the president, said on Sunday.
Trump responded with his tweet on the credibility of the reports.
“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!!!” Trump said.
The Washington Post further reported that the Russian bounties are “believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members.” And The Associated Press reported that officials said an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three Marines in Afghanistan is under investigation.
Other members of Congress also called for oversight into the matter, including another Trump ally, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
“If reporting about Russian bounties on US forces is true, the White House must explain: 1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?” she tweeted.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to hold a hearing.
“I request that the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hold an open hearing as soon as possible to examine the stunning revelations that… President Trump failed to authorize any action in response to the [Russian military intelligence service] covertly providing bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan,” Duckworth said in a letter.
She added: “Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, military families and the American people deserve answers and accountability for President Trump’s outrageous failure of leadership and apparent betrayal of our troops.”
Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I., also tore into Trump.
“Once again, it appears that President Trump has failed to stand up to Vladimir Putin,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a former Democratic presidential candidate, said that Trump “utterly failed” in his responsibility to American service members, in a letter to the leadership of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, asking for joint hearings.
“President Trump appears to have utterly failed to uphold his end of the bargain. Through thorough investigation, oversight, and accountability measures, we can still keep ours,” Gillibrand said.
And presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called the apparent inaction by the president “a betrayal.”
“Donald Trump’s entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale. It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way,” Biden said on Twitter.
But the Trump administration continues to insist that the Times report is not true — that it is unclear whether the bounties were actually offered and that Trump did not know about the alleged bounties until the Times reported on them.
“Nancy Pelosi is entirely off base. This president has been very tough on Russia. Sanctioning innumerable Russian targets, closing Russian consulates,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning, responding to criticism of the president from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“She’s talking about alleged intelligence that was never briefed to the president of the United States, and what’s she doing? She’s taking a report based on anonymous sourcing that was just dead wrong,” McEnany added.
McEnany said there would be a briefing on the issue to members of Congress on Monday.
The press secretary also said that multiple directors of national intelligence and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien have said the president was not briefed, and that former national security adviser John Bolton, who just released a scathing book about the Trump White House, said he was not aware of the alleged intelligence.
Bolton, however, said it was “disturbing” that Trump had not heard of the alleged bounty reports.
Fox News’ Edmund DeMarche, Andrew O’Reilly and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.