White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday abandoned attempts to discredit an intelligence report that Russians were offering bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and instead blasted The New York Times for reporting on it and criticized those who leaked the information to the newspaper as going after President Donald Trump.
‘The front page of the New York Times is not the venue for discussing classified information,’ she announced when she came to the podium.
‘As a result of this New York Times report, who’s going to want to crop cooperate with the United States intelligence community? Who’s going to want to be a source or an asset, if they know that their identity could be disclosed? Which allies will want to share information with us, if they know that some rogue intelligence officer can go splash that information on the front page of a major U.S. newspaper?,’ she argued.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany abandoned attempts to discredit an intelligence report that Russians were offering bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany spent her short press briefing – called on short notice – defending President Trump and blasting The New York Times for its report on Russian bounties
McEnany on Tuesday gave members of the media 40 minutes notice that she would hold a briefing and then only took questions for 15 minutes – a short period marked by her repeated defense of the president and multiple attacks on the report in The Times.
She also blasted the intelligence officials who leaked the information to the newspaper in a fiery appearance that was sure to please the president she was defending.
‘These are rogue intelligence officers who are imperiling our troops lives. We will not be able to get – very likely not be able to get – a consensus on this intelligence, because of what was leaked to the New York Times,’ she said.
Asked if these officers were going after President Trump, McEnany responded: ‘It very possibly could be. And if that’s the case, it is absolutely despicable.’
Her defense of the president and offensive strategy came as Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive 2020 nominee, criticized the president for not knowing about the intelligence report and not taking stronger action upon learning about it.
McEnany continued the arguments she made on Monday – that President Trump was not briefed because the information was not ‘verified.’
‘The President was never briefed on this, this intelligence still has not been verified, and there is no consensus among the intelligence community,’ McEnany argued repeatedly.
She did conceded he has now been briefed on the matter.
‘The president has been briefed on what is unfortunately in the public domain because of the New York Times and the irresponsible leaks. Yes he has been briefed, but that does not change the fact that there is no consensus on this intelligence that still has yet to be verified,’ she said.
Her briefing came after the State Department revealed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with a Taliban Deputy and chief negotiator Mullah Baradar and told him not to attack Americans.
Pompeo spoke with Baradar via video conference on Monday, the State Department revealed in a brief statement.
‘The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,’ the department said.
The Trump administration has gotten consumed with the growing crisis over an intelligence report – revealed in The New York Times on Friday – that Russians were paying Taliban officials to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with a Taliban leader amid the growing crisis over Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and told them not to kill Americans
Joe Biden said of Donald Trump that ‘this man is not fit to be the president of the United States of America’ during remarks in Wilmington on Tuesday
President Donald Trump and administration officials have repeatedly denied the president knew about the intelligence, which the White House has said is not ‘verified,’ leading to questions of why Trump wasn’t told and whether or not it was contained in his presidential daily brief and – if it was – why didn’t he read it.
As the administration has struggled to down play the shocking report, Democrats have piled onto the president, accusing him of a ‘dereliction of duty’ in the words of Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee who spoke in Wilmington on Tuesday.
‘If these allegations are true and he did nothing about any of this, then, in fact, I think the public should – unrelated to my running – conclude this man is not fit to be the president of the United States of America,’ Biden said of Trump.
Some Republicans have jumped to the president’s defense.
‘This morning I attended a long briefing at @WhiteHouse on reports about Putin putting bounties on our troops in Afghanistan. I’m confident @RealDonaldTrump didn’t know about the report, and it’s clear our intelligence agencies aren’t in complete agreement on this,’ wrote Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, on Twitter.
The White House has been briefing members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats separately – on the issue but won’t say if the president has been briefed on it.
The New York Times reported additional information on the payments on Tuesday, citing sources who claimed that American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.
That led to several arrests of Afghan businessmen believed to be middlemen who operated between the G.R.U. – the Russian intelligence agency – and the Taliban-linked militants. One of those men had $500,000 in cash at their residence.
Meanwhile, President Trump on Tuesday embraced a claim that an intelligence report on the Russian bounties was ‘wishful thinking’ as the families of Marines who died in a car bomb attack demanded justice.
The president retweeted two tweets from Geraldo Rivera on the matter as the White House struggled to deal with the fallout from The New York Times’ explosive report on the bounties, trying to down play its significance and saying Trump was never briefed on it.
Rivera’s tweets attacked the reporting in the Times, which followed up its original story with a piece Monday night that said intelligence on the Russian bounties was included in Trump’s President’s Daily Brief document – a compilation of the latest intelligence information – citing two officials with knowledge of the matter. One of the officials said the item appeared in Trump’s brief in late February; the other cited Feb. 27, specifically.
President Donald Trump embraced a claim that an intelligence report indicating Russia offered bounties on U.S. service members was ‘wishful thinking’ – retweeting tweets from Geraldo Rivera on the matter
‘After enjoying big splash from sensational #RussianBounty expose, #NYT retreating to shore-admitting ‘the underlying intelligence was conflicting.’ In 3 years of @realDonaldTrump all NYT/Russia reporting has been based on ‘conflicting’ intelligence – Also known as wishful thinking,’ was one of Rivera’s tweets that Trump touted.
‘Here’s #RussianBounty story in a nutshell: 1-US raid randomly discovers wad of cash in Afghan hut (How much? In a safe? Under a bed? In Capone’s vault?) 2-Clever intell op exclaims, ‘Say I think this cash came from Moscow!’ 3-During daily briefing @realDonaldTrump is told or not,’ was the other.
President Trump’s defense comes as the families of three Marines killed in a car bomb attack in April 2019 demanded justice. U.S. officials are looking at that April attack as one that could have been a result of Russian bounties.
Felicia Arculeo, whose son Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, died in the April 8, 2019, attack, told CNBC that she wants an investigation into how her son died and ‘that the parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible.’
Hendriks and the other two Marines, Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, were killed when a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield days before they were scheduled to return home from Afghanistan.
Hendriks’ father told the Associated Press that even a rumor of Russian bounties should be immediately addressed.
‘If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia, and one ounce of blood was spilled when they knew this, I lost all respect for this administration and everything,’ Erik Hendriks said.
But two senior administration officials told NBC News that the White House does not believe there is a link between the deaths of three marines and the bounty offer.
Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, who was briefed on the situation at the White House on Monday, told NBC that they were told that ‘no one had been killed’ as a result of Russia’s bounty offer.
These images provided by the U.S. Marine Corps show, from left, Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y. All three were killed on April 8, 2019, when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan
An Afghan military convoy drives past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base on April 9, 2019
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (left with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the right) said ‘there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear’; Schiff and Hoyer were among the eight House Democrats briefed by the White House on Tuesday morning
The White House continues to deny President Trump knew of the bounties even as reports emerged that top White House officials were aware in early 2019 of the classified intelligence reports on it.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton told colleagues he briefed President Trump on an intelligence assessment that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan in March 2019, much earlier than previously reported.
The Times reported it was in the President’s Daily Brief, a document packet that Trump is known not to read carefully, instead preferring a verbal briefing on intelligence matters and foreign relations. Even during those he has been reported to have trouble focusing on the matters at hand and prefers to get his information from conservative news sources.
‘He was not personally briefed on the matter,’ McEnany told reporters Monday when asked about the written briefing. ‘That is all I can share with you today.’
On Tuesday she said President Trump does read his daily briefings.
‘The President does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president I will tell you is the most informed person on planet earth when it comes to the threats that we face,’ McEnany said.
Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival, criticized the president for not knowing about the intelligence.
‘Either he knew and chose to do nothing, or he didn’t know because he couldn’t be bothered to do his job,’ she wrote on Twitter.
Biden also slammed Trump for reports he does not read his daily briefing, noting he and President Barack Obama read theirs every day when they were in office.
‘The president brief was something I read every day as vice president. The president read it every day. I was briefed every morning before I got to the White House, and then again. The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it’s a dereliction of duty if that’s the case. If he was briefed, and nothing was done about this, that is a dereliction of duty,’ Biden said of Trump.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said ‘there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear.’
Schiff made his comments after eight House Democrats received a briefing at the White House on Tuesday morning.
‘You briefed the president in the manner in which he or she receives information. If the president doesn’t read the briefs, it makes it doesn’t doesn’t work to give him written product, and not tell him what’s in it,’ Schiff said.
‘So, I don’t want to comment on this particular case but I just say it’s not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has. If he doesn’t read, he doesn’t read. They should know that by now,’ he noted.
President’s Daily Brief
The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) is a daily a multi-source intelligence digest of high-level information and analysis on national security issues produced for the president and key cabinet members and advisers.
It has been presented in some form to the president since 1946, when President Harry Truman received the Daily Summary.
In 2014, the PDB transitioned from a print product to electronic delivery at the request of President Barack Obama.
Given the sensitive nature of the information, most PDBs – even those from many years past – remain classified.
On Sunday, the AP reported that current National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump. O’Brien denied ever discussing it.
‘Over the past several days, the New York Times and other news outlets have reported on allegations regarding our troops in Afghanistan. While we do not normally discuss such matters, we constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the President as necessary,’ O’Brien said in a statement late Monday night.
‘Because the allegations in recent press articles have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items. Nevertheless, the Administration, including the National Security Council staff, have been preparing should the situation warrant action,’ he noted.
His statement did not address reports that the information was included in the president’s daily briefing book.
Bolton was reported to have told colleagues he briefed Trump on the batter last year.
Officials with knowledge of that briefing told the AP it contained no ‘actionable intelligence’, meaning the intelligence community did not have enough information to form a strategic plan or response.
CIA Director Gina Haspel, who was appointed by Trump in 2018, released a statement Monday saying that in developing intelligence assessments ‘preliminary Force Protection information is shared with the national security community – and with US allies,’ meaning the assessment would have been shared with foreign governments.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton claims he briefed Donald Trump on an intelligence assessment that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan in March 2019, much earlier than previously reported. Bolton pictured July 2019
Trump and the White House have denied that he was ever made aware of the assessment and no action was taken to stop the bounty operation
Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported. American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploy to fight Taliban fighters as part of Operation Mountain Thrust to a U.S. base near the village of Deh Afghan on June 22, 2006 in Afghanistan
But on Sunday the president denied that he was ever made aware of the assessment.
The White House doubled down on the matter with officials backing up the president’s words.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that President Trump was never briefed 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.
However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.
And she wouldn’t say if the president had been briefed since.
‘I have no further details on the president’s private correspondence,’ she responded.
Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019.
But he suggested on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that Trump was claiming ignorance to Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of response.
‘He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,’ Bolton said.
The director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, who was tapped by Trump for the job, also shared a statement Monday saying an investigation into the intelligence assessment is ongoing.
‘US and coalition force protection is a critical priority for both the President and the intelligence Community. The selective leaking of any classified information disrupts the vital interagency work to collect, assess, and mitigate threats and places our forces at risk. It is also, simply put, a crime,’ he said.
‘We are still investigating the alleged intelligence referenced in recent media reporting and we will brief the President and Congressional leaders at the appropriate time.
‘This is the analytic process working the way it should. Unfortunately, unauthorized disclosures now jeopardize our ability to ever find out the full story with respect to these allegations,’ he added.
Mother of Marine, 25, who was killed in Afghanistan urges investigation into intelligence claim that Russians paid Taliban to kill American soldiers including her son
Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, died in Afghanistan in April 2019 in a car bomb attack days before he was due to return home to the US.
His mother is now calling for an investigation into his death, following revelations that Russia may have been paying Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers.
Felicia Arculeo has said she wants to see thorough investigation launched after the New York Times reported that American intelligence agencies believe a Russian intelligence unit was offering cash to Islamist fighters if they took the lives of U.S. servicemen.
Cpl. Robert Hendricks is pictured hugging his mother Felicia Arculeo
Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, (left) and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, (right) were also killed in the bomb attack in April 2019
Felicia Arculeo, the mother of a Marine killed last year in Afghanistan, is pictured
‘The parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible,’ Arculeo said to CNBC.
‘I just happened to randomly see’ the news about the report. I got pretty upset,’ she said.
Hendriks, 25, along with two other Marines, Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, and 43-year-old Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman who were with the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division were killed by a car bomb at Bagram Air Field.
The Taliban had originally claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, but now there is a suggestion that perhaps those responsible were being paid by a foreign government for their murders.
So far Arcuelo from Long Island, New York says she has not been spoken to by U.S. intelligence or military officials since the news broke.
On Sunday, the president tweeted: ‘Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or to Vice President Mike Pence.’
Arculeo has said that despite not having verification from the White House, the claim should still be looked into.
‘Absolutely, that should be investigated,’ she said. ‘[But] at the end of the day, my son is still gone. He’s still not coming home.’