WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Sunday said he was never briefed about Russian efforts to pay bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, blasting a New York Times report that he was told about Moscow’s cash rewards but did not respond.
“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians,” Trump tweeted, calling on the newspaper to name its anonymous source. “Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.”
The Times reported on Friday that U.S. intelligence had concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year on American and coalition soldiers, and that Islamist militants were believed to have collected some bounty money.
The White House and Director of National Intelligence on Saturday denied the report. Russia’s foreign ministry also dismissed it.
On Sunday, the newspaper published an additional report saying U.S. intelligence and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted superiors as early as January to the suspected Russian plot to pay bounties, citing officials briefed on the matter.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, part of the so-called Gang of Eight lawmakers who receive frequent intelligence briefings, said she was not aware of the assessment and called for Congress to be briefed.
Pelosi cited the New York Times’ reporting and Trump’s denial as more evidence of the president ignoring allegations against Russia to accommodate President Vladimir Putin.
“There is something very wrong here. But this must have an answer,” she said on ABC News, adding that Trump has already supported Putin by diminishing U.S. leadership in NATO, reducing U.S. forces in Germany and inviting Russia back into the G8.
Pelosi and House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff also questioned why, if Trump’s claims were true, he was not told about the bounty offer.
“If he was briefed and still wanted Russia back in the G-8, it’s even worse,” Schiff tweeted.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged tough sanctions against Russia in the defense bill that the Senate will debate this week.
“There’s obviously more to this story, but it is pretty remarkable the president’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it,” Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told NBC News.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Alistair Bell, Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool