Donald Trump’s daily briefing book contained intelligence claiming that Russia was paying the Taliban bounties for dead American troops, CNN reported Monday night.
A U.S. official told the network that the assessment was part of the printed material given to the president every day at some point in ‘spring.’
The disclosure comes after Trump claimed on Sunday that ‘intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or [Mike Pence].’
White House officials, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, have offered a guarded response to whether Trump was informed about the bombshell claim.
On Monday she declined to answer directly whether it was in the Presidential Daily Brief, the printed compendium which he is given but which he has repeatedly been accused of failing to read, most recently in John Bolton’s excoriating memoir.
‘I have no further details on the president’s private correspondence,’ she said.
The source told CNN that the assessment that Russia had offered bounties in Afghanistan was backed up by ‘several pieces of information.’
Those included signals intelligence – material obtained by electronic monitoring of communications – and evidence from interrogating Taliban detainees.
The source the the network that other information did not corroborate the claim, but said: ‘This was a big deal. When it’s about US troops you go after it 100%, with everything you got.’
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that President Donald Trump was never briefed on reports that Russia offered to pay members of the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan because the intelligence was not ‘verified’ and there was ‘dissent’ in the intelligence community over its accuracy
President Donald Trump has denied that he was made aware of an intelligence report that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan
The uncertainty over whether the assessment was correct was echoed at the White House by McEnany who said Monday that Trump was never briefed on the reports because the intelligence was not ‘verified’ and there was ‘dissent’ in the intelligence community over its accuracy.
‘There was not a consensus among the intelligence community and in fact there were dissenting opinions and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified,’ she said at her press briefing.
She would not say who in the intelligence community dissented on the report.
‘I am telling you there is no consensus in the intelligence community and the dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community exist,’ she said.
It is rare for intelligence to be presented as 100 per cent accurate with complete agreement among the community, which is composed of 17 intelligence agencies -including the National Security Council, the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence and agencies in various departments such as State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security. For example, there was not full consensus that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan when then-President Barack Obama ordered the May 2011 raid that ended his life.
Notoriously George W. Bush’s presidential daily brief in early August 2001 said: Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.’ It was never suggested he did not read it.
Members of Congress were being briefed at the White House Monday afternoon as McEnany briefed in the press room. It remains unclear which members of Congress were invited. She said it was for ‘eight members from the committees of jurisdiction, so there was a bipartisan invitation extended, but no further details other than that.’
But she repeatedly declined to say why lawmakers would be briefed and the president would not be.
‘The president is briefed on verified intelligence,’ she said. ‘I would just point you back to the absolutely irresponsible decision of the New York Times to falsely report that he was briefed on something that he in fact was not briefed on. I really think that it is time for the New York Times to step back and ask themselves why they have been so wrong so often.’
She ended her briefing with an attack on The New York Times and Washington Post – two frequent targets of the president’s wrath for their stories on his administration. President Trump often labels stories in those outlets and others that he does not like as ‘fake news.’
‘It is inexcusable – the failed Russian reporting of the New York Times – and I think it’s time that the New York Times and the Washington Post hand back their Pulitzer’s,’ McEnany said and left the briefing room.
And Republican Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana tweeted an attack on The New York Times after he left the White House briefing for members of Congress on the report Russia is paying to have U.S. troops killed.
‘The real scandal: We’ll likely never know the truth… Because the @nytimes used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the President. The blood is on their hands,’ he wrote.
‘Having served in Afghanistan during the time the alleged bounties were placed, no one is angrier about this than me. Now it’s impossible to finish the investigation. All b/c the @nytimes will do anything to damage @realdonaldtrump, even if it means compromising nat’l security,’ he added.
The White House defense comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding the Trump administration brief all House members on the issue.
Pelosi, in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel, asked for a briefing for all members of the House.
‘The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed,’ she wrote.
‘Congress and the country need answers now. I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately. 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,’ Pelosi added.
Shortly there after, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer added his voice to the mix and demanded a similar briefing for the upper chamber.
‘I am calling for the Directors of National Intelligence and the CIA to immediately brief all 100 Senators on reports that Russia placed bounties on US troops in Afghanistan. We need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when,’ he said in a statement.
Several members of Congress demanded more information and that the president respond to Russian aggression.
‘This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything,’ Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s ‘This Week.’
‘We have called for a report to the Congress on this. This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,’ she said.
Even some Republicans demanded answers.
‘I have asked the administration to share what it knows,’ wrote Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, on Twitter.
‘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,’ tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who golfed with the president on Sunday.
‘Russia is not a partner, and not to be negotiated with. @realDonaldTrump needs to immediately expose and handle this, and stop Russia’s shadow war,’ tweeted Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a defense hawk and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding the Trump administration brief all House members on intelligence reports that Russia offered to pay members of the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan
The question is, was it in the briefing book or briefed to him, two separate things,” said Kinzinger. “I worked in the White House, these intel agencies basically take the most important parts of that and brief it verbally to the president.
Trump said over the weekend he had not been briefed on the matter and called the original report by The New York Times ‘possibly another fabricated Russian hoax.’
According to an initial report published Friday, Trump had been briefed on the operation, believed to be initiated by the notoriously violent Unit 29155 of the G.R.U, an arm of Russia’s military intelligence agency, citing officials with knowledge on the matter.
But Trump denied it, tweeting Sunday night that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed.
‘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!!!’ he tweeted, tagging the New York Times’ book section.
But he did not deny the intelligence assessment itself.
McEnany on Monday railed against the Times for its initial claim the president had been ‘briefed’ without addressing whether it was in the presidential daily brief.
However, a new Washington Post report published Sunday said that the Russian bounties offered to the Taliban militants are believed to have actually resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members.
President Trump returns to the White House after playing gold with Senator Lindsey Graham
Both Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of such a program to take out American troops.
While it’s not clear how many American or coalition troops from other countries were killed or targeted in the operation, fatalities are believed to have taken place, according to intelligence from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed in 2020.
In each of those years some service members were killed in what’s known as ‘green on blue’, hostile attacks launched by members of Afghan security forces, which are believed to be at times infiltrated by the Taliban.
The CIA reviewed the report and confirmed the bounty operation, a senior US official said. The CIA reportedly took time to make its assessment, slowed down by a scale back in government functions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials said the intelligence community has been investigating the April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines and wounded three other US service members and an Afghan contractor after a car was rigged with explosives and detonated near their armored vehicles.
The vehicles were on their way back to Bagram Airfield – the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter.
Those sources also said they were looking at other insider ‘green on blue’ attacks from 2019 to see if they were linked to Russian bounties.
Officials said the intelligence community has been investigating the April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three US Marines and wounded three other US service members and an Afghan contractor after a car was rigged with explosives and detonated near their armored vehicles, to see if it could be potentially linked to the Russian bounties. The site of the car bomb above on April 9, 2019
The vehicles were on their way back to Bagram Airfield – the largest US military installation in Afghanistan. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The site of the car bomb attack above
Several people familiar with the matter said intelligence of bounty killings was passed up from the US Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March.
Officials say there was disagreement about the appropriate path to take moving forward.
Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, reportedly wanted to confront the Russians directly about the matter, while some National Security Council officials in charge of Russia were not in favor of taking immediate action, an official said to the Post.
It’s still not clear if any action was taken at all against Russia.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said ‘the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.’
Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence until last month, tweeted on the matter: ‘I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence.’
However, a new Washington Post report published Sunday said that the Russian bounties offered to the Taliban militants are believed to have actually resulted in the deaths of several US service members. American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploy to fight Taliban fighters near the village of Deh Afghan on June 22, 2006
US forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, 16 in 2019 and two so far in 2020. Some of those deaths were the result of ‘insider attacks’ known as ‘green on blue’, hostile attacks launched by members of Afghan security forces, which are believed to be at times infiltrated by the Taliban. Military personnel pictured carrying a transfer case for a fallen service member in March 2019 in Delaware
There are conflicting reports on whether Trump did ever know about the paid attacks on American troops.
American intelligence officials and two others with knowledge of the matter confirmed to AP the president was briefed on the matter earlier this year.
The assessment came amid Trump’s push to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan and suggested that Russia was making overtures to militants as the US and the Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war.
The White House National Security Council would not confirm the assessments, but said the US receives thousands of intelligence reports daily that are subject to strict scrutiny.
Now politicians on Capitol Hill are demanding answers and are calling for the White House to share more information with Congress.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the number three Republican in the House, said if the operation was real, lawmakers need to know ‘who did know and when.’
Speaking on Russian President Vladimir Putin she said, ‘What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?’
Russia slammed the report as ‘nonsense.’
‘This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,’ the Russian Foreign Minister said.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who golfed with Trump on Sunday, tweeted Saturday that it is ‘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’
Joe Biden tweeted: ‘Donald Trump’s entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale’
Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence until last month, tweeted on the matter: ‘I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence’
A Taliban spokesman said the militants ‘strongly reject this allegation’ and are not ‘indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country.’
‘This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,’ Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden said reports that Trump was aware of the Russian bounties would be a ‘truly shocking revelation’ about the commander in chief and his failure to protect US troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.
John Bolton, a former national security adviser who was forced out by Trump last September and has now written a tell-all book about his time at the White House, said Sunday that ‘it is pretty remarkable the president’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it. One asks, why would he do something like that?’
Bolton told NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks the answer ‘may be precisely because active Russian aggression like that against the American service members is a very, very serious matter and nothing’s been done about it, if it’s true, for these past four or five months, so it may look like he was negligent. But, of course, he can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it.’
Over the past few years there have been reports that Russia was supplying small arms to the Taliban.
Russia was known to have built a relationship with certain Taliban links, mostly in northern Afghanistan starting around 2015, according to Carter Malkasian, who served as a senior adviser to the previous chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
That outreach was a part of Moscow’s concerns over the threat that the Islamic State militants posted in the region, and also in part to see US troops leave the region.
Malkasian says that if the bounty operation was real, it could’ve been a ‘random’ initiative rather than a well-coordinated big government program.
‘They may want us out, and they may be happy to see a few Americans die but I don’t think they want to see the Taliban take over,’ he said.
Russian operatives have been known to be aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group that is aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and that was designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012.
Russian operatives are said to have met with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar and inside Afghanistan, however, it is not known if the meetings were to discuss bounties.
US officials also recently said that Russia has been cooperative since the Taliban signed a peace deal with the Trump administration earlier this year, which included a plan for the withdrawal of US armed forces there.