President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that many in the intelligence community didn’t believe a report that the Russian government was paying a bounty on American troops in Afghanistan.
He continued to claim he had never been briefed on the matter, saying it didn’t rise to the level of president, and called the report a ‘hoax.’
‘We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level, where it would rise to that,’ Trump told Fox Business in an interview. ‘When you bring something into a president and I see many, many things and I’m sure I don’t see many things that they don’t think rose to the occasion. This didn’t rise to the occasion.’
The White House has struggled to do damage control and contain the fallout from Friday’s report in The New York Times on the allegation against Russia. The administration has focused its counterattack on the argument that Trump was never briefed on the matter.
President Donald Trump said many in the intelligence community didn’t believe a report that the Russian government was paying a bounty on American troops
Trump added that the intelligence community didn’t even buy it. His administration has called the information ‘unverified’ and said that is why it was never presented to the president during one of his intelligence briefings.
‘From what I hear, and I hear it pretty good, the intelligence people didn’t even – many of them didn’t believe it happened at all. I think it’s a hoax. I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats,’ Trump said.
But the president declined to detail what he would do if the report turned out to be true, simply saying: ‘If it did happen, the Russians would hear about it. And anybody else would hear about it that was involved.’
Trump called the matter a ‘hoax’ earlier in the day even as his national security adviser admitted the information was in the president’s briefing but not given to him, saying it was ‘unverified.’
The president blasted The New York Times, which originally reported that Russia was paying Taliban militants bounties to kill U.S. service members.
‘The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!,’ Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
Officials in the administration have not disputed the existence of the intelligence report but have said it was not verified and that was why it was not presented to President Trump.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told ‘Fox & Friends’ on Wednesday morning the president wasn’t briefed because the allegation against Russia was ‘uncorroborated.’
But he also acknowledged the allegation was in Trump’s briefing material – but the briefer didn’t tell the president about it.
‘The president’s career CIA briefer decided not to brief him because it was unverified intelligence and, by the way, she’s an outstanding officer and – in knowing all the facts I know – I certainly support her decision,’ he said.
President Donald Trump called reports of Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan a ‘hoax’ that was ‘made up by fake news’
Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told ‘Fox & Friends’ the president wasn’t briefed because the allegation was ‘uncorroborated’ but O’Brien admitted information was in president’s daily briefing – it just wasn’t given to him by the CIA officer doing the briefing
O’Brien, after his appearance on Fox News, was asked by reporters at the White House if the information about Russia was in the president’s daily brief but he declined to say either way.
‘We don’t get into to written classified documents. Unfortunately that that’s something that there’s been spent a little too much that in Washington lately,’ he said.
While Trump and his staff have argued he was not briefed on the matter, reports indicated the information was in the president’s daily brief – a compilation of intelligence reports given to the commander in chief and top administration officials. Trump is said not to read it carefully and is, instead, orally briefed on the matters at hand.
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.
O’Brien seems to confirm this with his account.
‘The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval … was a senior career civil servant, at a CIA officer,’ he told reporters at the White House.
‘And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came up. We get raw intelligence and tactical intelligence, every day, hundreds of pieces of intelligence coming every day, thousands of pieces of intelligence come in a week. She made that call,’ he said.
The New York Times reported in May that Trump’s CIA briefer is Beth Sanner, who has three decades of experience. The piece also detailed how the president has a short attention span, rarely reads his daily brief (except for graphs and photos he likes to look at) and tends to get his information from conservative news outlets.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president wasn’t angry about not being briefed because he has ‘great faith’ in his staff.
‘The president believes that and has great faith and Ambassador O’Brien and the others who made the decision that this shouldn’t be risen to his desk. It was a career CIA officer with more than 30 years of tenure who made the decision not to brief it up and the National Security Adviser agreed with that decision. She’s an excellent officer and does great work,’ she said Wednesday at her press briefing.
‘But this is unverified still at this very moment,’ she added.
And McEnany said on Tuesday the president does read his briefing reports.
‘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.
Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday he had not been briefed on the subject.
‘No, I was never briefed about that matter. And I’m not going to talk about classified materials…being the father of a United States Marine…I couldn’t be more proud of this president’s ongoing efforts to support our military,’ he told reporters during a trip to Arizona.
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia is a constant threat in Afghanistan and the situation his handled appropriately.
‘The president has been consistently aware of the challenges that Russia presents to us, and he is aware of the risk in Afghanistan,’ Pompeo said Wednesday at the State Department.
‘The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan, in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,’ he said and added: ‘We took this seriously, we handle it appropriately.’
A Defense Department report out Wednesday found that the Russian government was working in Afghanistan to expedite an American withdrawal of troops.
‘Russia very likely continues to support U.S.-Taliban reconciliation efforts in the hope that reconciliation will prevent a long-term U.S. military presence,’ the 108-page report stated. ‘As of February, the Russian government was working with the central government, regional countries, and the Taliban to gain increased influence in Afghanistan, expedite a U.S. military withdrawal, and address security challenges that might arise from a withdrawal.’
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be briefed on the intelligence on Thursday. She and the rest of the Gang of Eight will be briefed by the CIA director and the director of national intelligence, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed on Wednesday.
The Gang of Eight is compromised of the top leadership in Congress from both parties and the heads of the intelligence committees. Besides Pelosi, it includes Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Mark Warner as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence committee, and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff and Republican Rep. Devin Nunes as the chairman and ranking member of the House intelligence committee.
The briefings for the Gang of Eight are more detailed than a briefing for all members of Congress. The White House has already held separate briefings for some Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Meanwhile, McEnany on Tuesday abandoned attempts to discredit the 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 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 concede 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 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 – the AP reported – 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.
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.