SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s two senators had a chance to review classified material Tuesday about reports that Russia allegedly offered bounties to kill American and coalition forces in Afghanistan and that the Trump administration may have sat on the intelligence for months or longer.
“It is our understanding that the intelligence community is still investigating the alleged threat to our troops and if the intelligence is confirmed we are confident the president will take appropriate action,” Sen. Mike Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said following the senator’s review.
Sen. Mitt Romney didn’t comment after his review, but told reporters Monday, “if it’s accurate that they have been providing bounties, it is disgusting, outrageous and despicable,” according to NBC. “And clearly that would have enormous implications for our relationship with them, and for action going forward.”
ROMNEY: “If it's accurate that they have been providing bounties, it is disgusting, outrageous and despicable... And clearly that would have enormous implications for our relationship with them, and for action going forward.”— Julie Tsirkin (@JulieNBCNews) June 29, 2020
The U.S. intelligence assessment of the alleged Russian bounties was provided in the president’s daily intelligence reports as early as March 2019, U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence told The Associated Press. Former national security adviser John Bolton also “told colleagues at the time that he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment,” at the same time, the AP reported.
Intercepts of financial data about transfers between Russian- and Taliban-linked bank accounts, combined with interrogation details from detainees in the past six months, painted a picture of a“bounty program” run by Russia’s military intelligence unit, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Two officials told The New York Times that the president was told in February how the Russian military had not only offered, but paid out, bounties to “Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.”
The assessment was then shared in May in the CIA’s World Intelligence Review — known as The “WIRe,” the Times reported.
The WIRe is “extremely sensitive” and contains “highly classified” information for senior American policy and security officials, according to the CIA’s website.
In a tweet Sunday, Trump denied receiving a briefing on the matter, which was first reported in the Times on Friday.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said the president was unaware of the intelligence reports.
“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, NSA — national security adviser — and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice-president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” McEnany said at press conference.
She added that there wasn’t a consensus in the intelligence community about the Russian bounty allegations and that Trump would have only been briefed once the intelligence community agreed on the allegations’ veracity.
Senior House Democrats said they received “no substantive information” from a White House briefing about the allegations on Tuesday, Politico reported.
“The right people to give the briefing really were not in the room,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows led the briefing that included Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, senior National Security Council aide Michael Ellis, top NSC counsel John Eisenberg and Thomas Williams, the NSC’s senior director for European and Russian Affairs, according to those attending, Politico reported.
In a statement Monday, Utah Republican Rep. Chis Stewart said the media reports that Trump was briefed on the alleged bounties are not true.
“The raw intelligence simply did not reach the level of credibility sufficient to brief the president,” said Stewart, a U.S. Air Force veteran and House Intelligence Committee member. “To suggest the president would place the interests of Russia over our service members is absurd.”
Stewart added that “malicious leaks and inaccurate reporting” compromise the safety of American troops and investigations into Russia’s intentions.
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said in a statement Tuesday, “if reports are true, we must hold Russia accountable for their outrageous actions. Intelligence officials should brief all members of Congress. The administration must present a plan of how it will respond to, and stand up to Russian aggression and support our military men and women.”
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said, “Since I have not been briefed, I can’t speak to the veracity of the reports that Russian operatives paid the Taliban bounties to kill American soldiers, but if true it is imperative that the United States respond strongly to hold Putin accountable.”