A dozen House Democrats arrived at the White House Tuesday morning for a briefing on intelligence that Russia provided bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported on Monday that President Donald Trump was briefed on the intelligence in late February, earlier than previously reported. The President has denied knowing about the intelligence.
The report by the NYT has been refuted by several intelligence agencies including the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Pentagon Chief Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said, “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“.
In a rare statement, Director of Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel said, “When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation. In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community—and with U.S. allies—as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas. Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.
Hostile states’ use of proxies in war zones to inflict damage on U.S. interests and troops is a constant, longstanding concern. CIA will continue to pursue every lead; analyze the information we collect with critical, objective eyes; and brief reliable intelligence to protect U.S. forces deployed around the world“.
The Office of National Intelligence, Director John Ratcliffe also made a statement “U.S. and coalition force protection is a critical priority for both the President and the Intelligence Community. The selective leaking of any classified information disrupts the vital interagency work to collect, assess, and mitigate threats and places our forces at risk“.
DNI Ratcliffe issues statement on impact of unauthorized disclosures on force protection pic.twitter.com/Pr7PbWk443
— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) June 30, 2020
Even though the White House and the intel agencies have said that the intelligence behind the report was not confirmed, the New York Times and the Democrats have still continued with their accusations and assertions. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee commented, “There may be a reluctance to brief the President on things he doesn’t want to hear — that may be more true with respect to Putin and Putin’s Russia more than any other subject“. He continued, “If there’s a problem with briefing the President on intelligence he doesn’t want to hear that’s a problem for our whole nation’s national security.” Schiff added, “If a President doesn’t read briefs it doesn’t work to give him the product and not tell him what’s in it.”
Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan) told reporters on Monday, “I think we have to understand what exactly is in the intelligence, and then understand what, if anything, the White House has done about it. They need to be forthcoming about that”. She added, “I need to see the intelligence myself, but if this is serious intelligence, based on how the Russians operate, I think we have to question whether this represents a significant policy shift and why”.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he didn’t believe they received “any new substantive information”.
The White House said on Monday that the President still hadn’t had a special presentation about the bounty allegations because of the disagreement about the matter within the intelligence world.
Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters Monday, “I don’t think it’s should be a surprise to anybody that the Taliban’s been trying to kill Americans and that the Russians have been encouraging that, if not providing means to make that happen.”
He added, “Intelligence committees have been briefed on that for months. So has Nancy Pelosi, so has Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. So, this is more leaks and partisanship.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee made the following statement, “Every level of government needs to gather more information to understand this situation better. Measures have to be taken to be sure our troops are protected.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said he didn’t see a problem with lower-level officials working on finding out more before asking the President to set aside time on his calendar. “I don’t see any reason he necessarily should have been [briefed] at this point,” Kinzinger said. “And so I think as we get more answers, then we’ll know what the response needs to be, but I don’t think this has been built up to be any kind of internal scandal. But it is definitely a concern …what role is Russia playing in Afghanistan.”
The White House will have another meeting today with a group of Senate Republicans after briefing with a group of House Republicans on Monday.