On Friday night the New York Times reported a blockbuster story: U.S. intelligence has found that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to strike coalition forces, including U.S. and British military members.
According to the Times, after Trump was briefed months ago about the role that Russia’s military intelligence agency played in initiating attacks on American soldiers, the president was given a “menu of potential options” on how to respond. But the Trump administration has not acted on any to date.
Late Saturday, the White House denied that President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed by U.S. intelligence officials regarding the payments made to militants by Russia to kill American troops.
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day, and they are subject to strict scrutiny… The CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
In 2019, twenty Americans were killed during combat in Afghanistan, but officials do not know if any of those killed were included in the bounties.
The news comes on the heels of the administration finalizing a plan that would see more than 4,000 U.S. troops removed from Afghanistan this fall. The move would leave approximately 4,500 service members in the country.
Astonishingly, while the controversy swirled from Friday night and into the next day, the president didn’t address the story head-on aside from the White House’s statement. Instead, he used his Saturday to play golf, retweet false conspiracy theories from QAnon accounts, and share selectively edited videos of Joe Biden and the recent protests.
Russia has denied the allegations, calling the reports “fake stories” in a tweet from their U.S. embassy Twitter account.
Trump, who has often bragged about his friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir, spoke with the Russian leader on the phone on June 1, the same day that the G-7 nations voted down a Trump-backed proposal to allow Russia back into its membership.
“I don’t feel that as a G-7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Trump said.
The president told Fox News radio on June 3 that Putin’s past should have nothing to do with his reentry into the G-7.
“It’s not a question of what he’s done. It’s a question of common sense,” Trump said.
Unlike the president, other politicians and former military members have reacted to the news on Twitter.
Candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona Mark Kelly, who is a Navy combat veteran retired NASA astronaut, said the report was “staggering.”
“This report that the administration has had no response to Russia putting a bounty on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan is just staggering. As a combat veteran, I can’t imagine how this could go without a response. We need answers,” Kelly said.
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wrote, “President Trump was cozying up to Putin and inviting him to the G-7 all while his Administration reportedly knew Russia was trying to kill U.S troops in Afghanistan and derail peace talks with the Taliban.”
And Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), an Iraq War vet, reacted emotionally to the report, apologizing to members of the military for having to serve under a president like Trump.
Iraq War vet @RepRubenGallego gets emotional while speaking about Russia bounties story:
“It's heartbreaking… their own president is basically hanging them out to dry… I want to apologize to all of our members in the military. I'm so sorry that this man is your president." pic.twitter.com/2xxraPDoQF
— Peter Wade 🤦♂️ (@brooklynmutt) June 27, 2020
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, called for hearings on the controversy.
“Our troops deserve to know what the Trump Administration is doing to protect them and why Donald Trump failed to take action in the first place. I’m demanding a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to get to the bottom of #BountyGate,” Duckworth tweeted Saturday night.