Congress demands answers from Trump administration on Russia bounty intelligence

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The White House briefed a group of House Republican lawmakers on the matter on Monday, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel to provide all-member briefings to Congress on the intelligence. And several key Senate Republicans said they are seeking more information from the Trump administration, too.

“Congress and the country need answers now,” wrote Pelosi, a Democrat from California. “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. The Administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners.”

The swift response underscored the congressional push for information about the US intelligence — and swirling questions over whether President Donald Trump was briefed about it, which Trump has denied. Pelosi, a member of the “Gang of Eight,” the congressional leaders who are briefed on sensitive intelligence matters, said Sunday she was not told about the bounties offered to the Taliban. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees declined to comment.

“We need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when,” Schumer said in a statement demanding an all-Senate briefing.

This weekend, The New York Times, CNN and other news outlets reported Russian intelligence officers offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as rewards if they killed US or UK troops there. While it’s unclear whether Trump was aware, there have been recent discussions at high levels between the US and the UK to share the intelligence, two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
Washington Post: Russian bounties to Taliban fighters believed to result in deaths of US troops, intelligence assessments show

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday there was “no consensus within the intelligence community” about whether Russia offered to pay bounties to the Taliban for killing American troops in Afghanistan.

McEnany said there was “dissent” within the intelligence community about the intelligence, which she insisted had not reached Trump’s desk because “it wasn’t verified.”

“Intelligence is verified before it reaches the President,” McEnany said during a briefing at the White House.

Pressed whether the information was included in the Presidential Daily Briefing — the written document that includes the intelligence community’s more important and urgent information — McEnany said only Trump “was not personally briefed.”

Seven GOP lawmakers received a briefing Monday on the intelligence from Ratcliffe, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and chief of staff Mark Meadows, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. The lawmakers included Republican Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Mac Thornberry of Texas, Mike McCaul of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Jim Banks of Indiana, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Elise Stefanik of New York.

On Sunday, Trump described the reporting as “possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax.”

“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump tweeted Sunday evening. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio said Monday that he would not comment “on specific recent reports.”

“However, the targeting of our troops by foreign adversaries via proxies is a well established threat,” Rubio tweeted. “Senate Intel has & will continue to conduct vigorous oversight of the performance of our agencies on all threats facing our nation.”

Several key congressional Republicans said they were looking for more information.

“We’ve known for a long time that Putin is a thug and a murderer, and if the allegations reported in the New York Times are true, I will work with President Trump on a strong response. My number-one priority is the safety of our troops,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, tweeted Monday. “Right now, though, we need answers. I have asked the administration to share what it knows, and I expect to know more in the coming days.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Trump, said he expected the Trump administration “to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports.”

Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, tweeted over the weekend that if Russians did attempt to bribe Taliban fighters, “the White House must explain … Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the (president’s daily brief)?”

“Who did know and when?” Cheney tweeted. “What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”

Thornberry told reporters Monday morning before the briefing he was concerned if the President was not briefed on intelligence that US troops could have been endangered.

“The US intelligence community reportedly informed the Trump administration of this assessment as early as late March. Acting on this information could have saved lives,” Smith, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement Monday. “Why didn’t the President receive a briefing on such a highly sensitive subject? Was this information included in the Presidential Daily briefing? If not, why not? Was this information shared with our military leaders?”

Thornberry, a Texas Republican, told reporters on Monday he was concerned if the President was not briefed on intelligence that US troops could have been endangered.

“What the President and the DNI have said is that the President was not briefed, which to me is a very concerning statement,” Thornberry said. “I don’t know the credibility of the information because I have not been briefed, but anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me should have been briefed immediately to the commander-in-chief and a plan to deal with that situation.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Zachary Cohen, Kaitlan Collins, Ryan Browne and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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