House Democrats on Tuesday hit President TrumpDonald John TrumpTop intelligence officials release statements criticizing leaking of Russian bounties information Russian bounty intel was included in Trump’s daily briefing: reports Senators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops MORE for denying knowledge of intelligence that Russia offered bounties to incentivize Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, rather than vowing to get to the bottom of a matter that suggests U.S. troops are at risk.
In a press conference Tuesday morning, a group of Democrats who had just been briefed at the White House questioned why Trump’s advisers did not make sure Trump saw the intelligence as he kept up communications with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinTrump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties Russia is testing Trump’s reactions Trump claims intel on Russian bounties was deemed not credible MORE.
“It makes no sense whatsoever for the President and the administration not to call out Putin,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelPolitical establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme The Hill’s Morning Report – COVID-19 alarms escalate; Trump under fire over Russia Progressives zero in on another House chairman in primary MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the podium, surrounded by other socially-distanced Democrats. “I don’t understand what it is with the president’s infatuation with Putin.”
Democrats also stressed that the briefing at the White House is not a substitute for a full House briefing and said they want intelligence professionals from the CIA and NSA to conduct the briefings, rather than officials like White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTop intelligence officials release statements criticizing leaking of Russian bounties information GOP senator: Congress must find out what Trump knew of Russian bounties, and when Comer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight MORE, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTop intelligence officials release statements criticizing leaking of Russian bounties information Russian bounty intel was included in Trump’s daily briefing: reports Senators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops MORE.
“The right people to give the briefings really were not in the room,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffVoters must strongly reject the president’s abuses by voting him out this November Democrats face tough questions with Bolton Bolton defends not testifying: ‘I don’t think it would have made a difference’ MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
“We need to hear from the heads of the intelligence agencies about how they assess the allegations that have been made publicly, what can they tell us about the truth or falsity of these allegations, what can they tell us about steps they are undertaking or have undertaken to vet any information that they may have.”
“I think we knew the White House perspective, what we need to know is the intelligence perspective,” said Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTrump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties McEnany sidesteps questions on Russian bounty intel This week: Democrats set to move health care, infrastructure proposals with eye on November MORE (D-Md.), the House Majority Leader, adding that they did not receive “any new substantive information.”
Democrats, who were limited to what they could say about the intelligence, said they forcefully disagree with President Trump that the allegation about the rewards is a “hoax.”
“Nothing in the briefing that we’ve just received led me to believe it is a hoax,” said Hoyer.
The briefing at the White House comes a day after the White House briefed House Republicans about the intelligence, a move that came as the Trump administration faced bipartisan pressure to explain what Trump knew about the threat – or why he didn’t.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Monday denied that Trump was “personally” briefed on the reported bounties, noting that he was not briefed because of a lack of consensus and “dissenting opinions” within the intelligence community about the credibility of the information. She did not answer questions as to whether Trump received elements of the intelligence in his Daily Presidential Briefing.
Citing officials, The New York Times then reported late Monday that Trump was provided a written briefing in late February.
Democrats suggested the White House has no reason to claim Trump didn’t see the intelligence. If he didn’t read the briefing, it fell to his advisers to ensure he was aware of the facts, however he best takes in information, they said.
“If a president doesn’t read the briefs, it doesn’t work to give him a product and not tell him what’s in it,” Schiff said, noting that that he is speaking generally. “It’s not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has. If the president doesn’t read, he doesn’t read. They should know that by now.”
Schiff speculated that maybe Trump’s advisers were afraid to give the president information that he doesn’t want to hear, while Hoyer quoted former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonRussian bounty intel was included in Trump’s daily briefing: reports Juan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Navarro: Bolton set himself up as ‘White House warlord’ MORE in saying that it is “inconceivable” that matter as grave as U.S. troops being killed did not reach the president.
Others, however, expressed skepticism about the White House claims that the president didn’t know.
Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Trump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties House Armed Services leaders demand briefing on reported Russian bounties on US troops MORE (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said based off what he heard at the White House briefing, “it seems to me like [Trump] did know about it.”
“Now maybe he was aware of the allegation, looked at it and said, there’s nothing to this,” Smith said during a separate phone call with reporters during the press conference. “It’s hard for me to believe based on the way it was presented that the president knew nothing about it as he stated.”
Rebecca Kheel contributed.