June 30 (UPI) — The White House briefed eight Republican congressmen on Monday on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and that President Donald Trump has had knowledge of this scheme for months without taking any action.
Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas, leader of the House foreign affairs committee, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, issued a joint statement on Monday stating they were briefed on the matter along with other House Republicans by top White House officials, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, stating they were informed that there is an ongoing review “to determine the accuracy of these reports.”
The House Republican pair urged in their statement, which did not mention the president, to allow for the review to take place before “any retaliatory actions are taken.”
“There are already those who are politicizing this issue, however we cannot let politics overshadow a truth that Republicans and Democrats alike can agree on: the Putin regime cannot be trusted,” they said. “If the intelligence review process verifies the reports, we strongly encourage the administration to take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable.”
Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana tweeted he attended the meeting, stating the truth about the intelligence may now never be known because “The New York Times used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the president.”
“Now it’s impossible to finish this investigation,” he said.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump was told in late March about Russia paying bounties to Taliban fighters for U.S. troop kills. The report said Trump was briefed on the incident but did not act on it. However, The New York Times reported on Monday the president also received a written briefing on the matter in late February.
The accusations have spurred a bipartisan call for an explanation, and Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said late Monday that the Department of Defense was evaluating relevant intelligence but that to date there has been “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,” he said in a statement.
Democrats were not invited to the meeting, but House majority leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he was going to the White House on Tuesday for a briefing on the matter with several House Democrats.
In a statement, Hoyer lambasted Trump for not even warning Russia to stop offering monetary rewards for U.S. kills and that it was time for House Republicans to cease “enabling the behavior of a president incapable of taking responsibility, particularly one who endangers our men and women in uniform.”
“It’s time to recognize the danger this presidency places on our national security,” he said while calling on the White House to hold a full House briefing.
Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied the allegations that Trump was briefed on the intelligence in a briefing with reporters, stating there’s no consensus within the intelligence community on that matter “and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.”
“The president is briefed on verified intelligence,” she said. “And again, I would just point you back to the absolutely irresponsible decision of The New York Times to falsely report that he was briefed on something that he, in fact, was not briefed on.”
Trump on Sunday denied he was informed about such a bounty by the Russians.
“Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President] 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]. Everybody is denying it and there have not been many attacks on us,” Trump said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the entire body to be briefed on the incident.
“The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed. Congress and the country need answers now,” Pelosi wrote in her letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
“I, therefore, request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately. Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable,” Pelosi said.