The U.S. reportedly sent secret warnings to Russia threatening to take action if Moscow offered cash to the Taliban in exchange for killing American troops – despite Trump dismissing reports of the bounties as ‘fake news.’
The Defense Department has been in ‘serious’ talks with Moscow over claims that a Russian military intelligence unit offered payments – running as high as $100,000 -and weapons for every U.S. or allied soldier the Taliban killed in Afghanistan, The Daily Beast reported, citing anonymous sources.
Two senior officials told the website the warnings were issued in June, when the New York Times published a report claiming U.S. intelligence found evidence of the bounties which had been included in Trump’s presidential daily briefing in February.
Moscow allegedly denied the reports during communications with the U.S., a source said.
President Donald Trump said in an interview conducted Tuesday that he did not bring up Moscow paying the Taliban to kill U.S. troops n Afghanistan during his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday
Trump and Putin have met on several occasions and the president frequently touts his close relationship and phone calls with his Russian counterpart
The alleged warnings contradict Trump’s recent comments on the reports, which he has repeatedly cast doubt on and has dismissed as unconfirmed or fake.
In an interview recorded Tuesday he said he did not bring up Moscow putting a bounty on American troops during his recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
‘We don’t talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion,’ Trump told ‘Axios on HBO,’ before revealing: ‘I have never discussed it with him.’
A clip of the talk was released Wednesday morning, and the full interview with the president will air Monday night.
When pushed on why he did not confront Putin during Thursday’s phone call, the president said, ‘That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.’
When asked Wednesday morning at the White House if he is confident that Russia did not actually place bounties on American soldiers, Trump deflected but acknowledged he would be ‘very angry’ if it turned out to be true.
‘I don’t – I told you, I certainly read about it, and since then, I’ve talked about it,’ Trump said. ‘Colin Powell says it’s not true. Other people say it’s not true.’
Reports emerged in June of the alleged Russian bounty on American troops, but Trump says the information ‘never reached my desk’ because ‘many people said was fake news’ and U.S. intelligence ‘didn’t think it was real’
‘We don’t talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion,’ Trump told ‘Axios on HBO,’ before revealing: ‘I have never discussed it with him’
‘If it were true, I’d be very angry about it,’ Trump said. ‘I don’t know why they’d be doing it. But if you tell me they’re doing it, I will certainly take that under consideration.’
‘We know that the Russians are involved,’ then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson accused in 2018, claiming the Kremlin was providing money and arms to the terrorist group.
Trump said he was not aware of the general’s comments, adding that no evidence or intelligence of the alleged bounty ever ‘reached my desk.’
The White House said the president was never briefed on the matter, claiming the intelligence was inconclusive, and Trump reiterated in the interview that U.S. intelligence ‘didn’t think it was real.’
But several media outlets’ follow-up reports on the issue said it was included in the presidential daily briefing, but insist Trump didn’t read it.
‘They like to say I don’t read, I read a lot,’ Trump told Axios of his intelligence briefings.
Trump, a Republican who has sought to cultivate warmer relations with Moscow, has said he was not briefed on the matter before it emerged in news media in late June.
He has called the reports a hoax and frequently casts doubt on them.
The president has met with his Russian counterpart six times and often touts their relationship.
The two have also spoken on the phone nearly two dozen times since Trump took office.
Trump’s skepticism of the reports have been contradicted by four U.S. and European sources and by its inclusion in a widely read CIA report in May.
Democrats in Congress have accused Trump of not taking intelligence information concerning soldiers’ deaths seriously enough.
The U.S. Defense Department reportedly sent warnings to Russia following reports that it had placed bounties on American troops in Afghanistan
The issue has also been made into an election issue, with presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden and other Democrats taking aim at the president for his handling of the issue.
Biden accused Trump of ‘dereliction of duty,’ admitting that he isn’t sure if the president was briefed on the alleged bounty.
His other theory is that he ‘was briefed and nothing was done about this.’
Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both of her legs, has maintained a running tally of the days Trump has not challenged Putin on the matter.
Duckworth is one of the many women Biden has considered as a potential running mate.
White House officials have struggled to explain the Trump administration’s response to the bounty reports, but have not commented on their substance.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has said Trump was not verbally briefed on the intelligence because his CIA briefer concluded the reports were uncorroborated.