President Donald Trump has publicly shrugged off allegations that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan, reigniting concerns that he’s more interested in preserving ties with the Kremlin than defending US interests.
Trump has yet to demand an investigation or threaten Russia with any consequences if the allegations are confirmed — even as lawmakers from both parties demanded the administration hold Russia accountable if there is evidence that the bounty offers occurred.
Trump’s only public remark on the reports was a tweet that an intelligence official he didn’t name told him the bounty allegations weren’t credible — even though White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that there’s no consensus on their veracity.
Trump’s reluctance to confront Russia has spawned lingering fears among US lawmakers and allies overseas that Trump prefers to remain willfully ignorant when it comes to allegations of President Vladimir Putin’s plotting against the US.
Republicans as well as Democrats demanded the administration provide additional details. GOP lawmakers went to the White House for briefings while House Democrats accepted an offer for some members to receive a briefing on Tuesday.
The latest Russia episode is becoming a growing political crisis for a president who is trailing his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in polls and struggling to defend his handling of the resurgent coronavirus outbreak at
the same time as nationwide protests against police brutality and racism continue.
The director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, vowed to investigate the allegations and brief lawmakers and the president about his conclusions.
But Ratliffe, a former Republican congressman who was confirmed in May, devoted much of his statement to a rebuke of the person or persons behind the allegations.
“The selective leaking of any classified information disrupts the vital interagency work to collect, assess, and mitigate threats and places our forces at risk.
It is also, simply put, a crime,” he said.
CIA Director Gina Haspel, in her own statement, echoed his criticism: “Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.”
Separately, a New York Times report, citing two unnamed officials, said an account of the Russian bounties was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a written intelligence report, in late February. And a Defense Department spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said that the department “has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations.”
Trump’s response to the allegations highlights his complicated and often adversarial relationship with the US intelligence community. In 2018, he stood next to Putin in Helsinki and publicly challenged his own agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Trump also repeatedly rejected Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference as a “witch hunt.”
The latest intelligence — which suggests Russia offered Taliban-linked militants money to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan, and that has been circulating within the Washington intelligence community for months — risked once again isolating Trump from US allies who demanded information on the alleged plot.