Trump denies report he was briefed about Russian bounties on U.S. troops

4 months ago 34
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June 28 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Sunday denied a report that he received an intelligence briefing stating that Russia paid a bounty to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In a tweet Sunday morning Trump wrote that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence received any such briefings regarding bounties on U.S. troops by Russia while also questioning the legitimacy of The New York Times' report.

"Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President] Pence or Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an 'anonymous source' by the Fake News [New York Times]. Everybody is denying it and there have not been many attacks on us," Trump said.

The Times report states that American intelligence officials briefed Trump on their findings that Russia had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces -- including targeting U.S. troops -- in Afghanistan. Officials also said the findings were discussed by the White House's National Security Council at an interagency meeting in late March and options such as making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow or strengthening sanctions were suggested.

Officials said they believed Islamist militants, or armed criminals associated, with them collected bounty payments. In 2019, 20 Americans were killed in Afghanistan but it wasn't immediately clear which killings were under suspicion, The Times reported.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, on Saturday did not deny the validity of the report but said Trump and Pence were not briefed on "the alleged Russian bounty intelligence and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe issued a similar statement confirming they were not briefed on the intelligence.

"The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred was accurate. The New York Times reporting and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate," Ratcliffe said.

Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the Kremlin had not been made aware of the accusations, The New York Times reported, and the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., denounced the report as "baseless allegations."

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also denied that insurgents have "any such relations" with Russia or any other intelligence agency.

"These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless -- our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before and we did it on our own resources," he said, according to The New York Times. "That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don't attack them."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election, said Trump's presidency "has been a gift" to Putin and criticized the president for not taking action on these claims.

"The commander in chief of American troops, serving in the dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months, according to The Times and done worse than nothing," said Biden.

Trump responded to Biden's criticism on Twitter Sunday by saying "Russia had a field day" while Biden was in office under President Barack Obama while referencing his son Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine.

Sen. Tammy Ducksworth, D-Ill., said she would demand a Senate hearing to investigate the report and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas -- who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said if the report is true "it would only deepen my grave concerns about the Putin regime's malicious behavior globally."

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