The newest Russia-themed firestorm has intensified, with The New York Times and the Trump administration doubling down on their clashing claims. In response to a Times report citing unnamed officials claiming the president was briefed on a suspected Russian bounty plot to kill Americans, President Trump blasted the “phony Times hit job” Sunday and said “nobody briefed or told” him about the alleged plot. Now the paper has published the date of the alleged briefing, citing two unnamed officials.
“American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter,” The New York Times reported Friday. The intelligence finding “was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March,” the Times reported, citing the sources.
After multiple White House officials denied the claim, Trump responded in a pair of posts early Sunday. “Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President Mike 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],” Trump tweeted. “Everybody is denying it [and] there have not been many attacks on us. Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden [and] Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine — Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their ‘source’?”
On Monday, the Times added more specifics to their initial report.
“American officials provided a written briefing in late February to President Trump laying out their conclusion that a Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan,” the Times reported Monday, citing “two officials familiar with the matter.”
While the White House “tried on Monday to play down the intelligence assessment that Russia sought to encourage and reward killings — including reiterating a claim that Mr. Trump was never briefed about the matter and portraying the conclusion as disputed and dubious,” the Times reports, according to two officials, “the intelligence was included months ago in Mr. Trump’s President’s Daily Brief document.”
“One of the officials said the item appeared in Mr. Trump’s brief in late February; the other cited Feb. 27, specifically,” the report states. “Moreover, a description of the intelligence assessment that the Russian unit had carried out the bounties plot was also seen as serious and solid enough to disseminate more broadly across the intelligence community in a May 4 article in the C.I.A.’s World Intelligence Review, a classified compendium commonly referred to as The Wire, two officials said.”
Along with Trump’s forceful denial that he was ever briefed on the matter, other White House officials and federal departments have pushed back on the claims in the Times’ report.
National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien said in a statement: supporting Trump’s claim he “had not been briefed” on the suspected plot: “Over the past several days, the New York Times and other news outlets have reported on allegations regarding our troops in Afghanistan. While we do not normally discuss such matters, we constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the President as necessary. Because the allegations in recent press articles have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items. Nevertheless, the Administration, including the National Security Council staff, have been preparing should the situation warrant action.”
The Department of Defense (DOD) also addressed the issue, stating it currently has “no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports”: “The Department of Defense continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan. To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports. Regardless, we always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan — and around the world — most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats.”
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