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Republicans briefed on claims Russia offered the Taliban bounties

29 Jun 2020 Daily Mail Online

The White House held a briefing for Republican members of Congress on Monday afternoon about the intelligence report that Russia offered to pay members of the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan because the intelligence and one of those lawmakers revealed the payments went back longer that originally reported. 

Republican Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana, after he left the briefing, tweeted that the payments went back to his service in Afghanistan.

He was deployed in Afghanistan during Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel in 2014 and 2015, according to his official biography, and he currently serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve as a Supply Corps officer. 

'Having served in Afghanistan during the time the alleged bounties were placed, no one is angrier about this than me,' he wrote. 

Republican Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana (seen in the Oval Office with President Trump) after he left a White House briefing on Monday, tweeted that the Russian payments to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops went back to his service in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015

Rep. Banks also said the New York Times has blood on its hands for reporting the story

The New York Times, which broke the story on Friday, indicated from their intelligence sources that the bounties went back to 2019 or possibly 2018. 

'Rep. Banks can’t confirm or deny specific dates because the briefing was classified,' a spokesman for the congressman told 

Banks was one of eight Republican lawmakers at the Monday afternoon briefing. The rest were Republican Reps. Liz Cheney, Mac Thornberry, Michael McCaul, Andy Biggs, Adam Kinzinger, Elise Stefanik, and Chris Stewart, ABC News reported. 

The members of Congress were briefed by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a former GOP member of Congress.

A group of House Democrats will be briefed at the White House at 8 am on Tuesday, according to an aide for Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, the majority leader.

'The White House reached out to Leader Hoyer about bringing a handful of Democrats to the White House for a briefing, and Leader Hoyer has agreed to a meeting at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. However, this briefing is not a substitute for an all-House briefing, and Leader Hoyer is urging the Administration to schedule one immediately,' the aide said. 

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan who is a former CIA analyst, said the White House needed to be more forth coming about what it knew. 

'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. I worked at the White House under Bush and Obama, I read intel every morning for an hour, I was a CIA officer. I cannot imagine what I would be doing if this piece of intelligence came across my desk when I was in those jobs. It would be an immediate flagging for your superiors,' she said.  


Meanwhile, no clear time frame on the bounties has been established and the White House on Monday focused its response on refuting a claim in the original Times report that President Donald Trump was briefed on the situation. 

U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed in 2020. 

In each of those years some service members were killed in what's known as 'green on blue', hostile attacks launched by members of Afghan security forces, which are believed to be at times infiltrated by the Taliban.   

But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at her briefing that President Trump was never briefed on report because the intelligence was not 'verified' and there was 'dissent' in the intelligence community over its accuracy. 

'There was not a consensus among the intelligence community and in fact there were dissenting opinions and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified,' she said at her press briefing. 

She would not say who in the intelligence community dissented on the report. 

'I am telling you there is no consensus in the intelligence community and the dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community exist,' she said.

It is rare for intelligence to be presented as 100 per cent accurate with complete agreement among the community, which is composed of 17 intelligence agencies -including the National Security Council, the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence and agencies in various departments such as State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security. For example, there was not full consensus that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan when then-President Barack Obama ordered the May 2011 raid that ended his life. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that President Donald Trump was never briefed on reports that Russia offered to pay members of the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan because the intelligence was not 'verified' and there was 'dissent' in the intelligence community over its accuracy


The White House did not answer if President Trump has been briefed by intelligence officials since the New York Times reported on the Russian bounties on U.S. troops

American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploy to fight Taliban fighters as part of Operation Mountain Thrust to a U.S. base near the village of Deh Afghan on June 22, 2006

Additionally, McEnany was repeatedly pressed on whether or not the president was briefed after The New York Times report dropped on Friday but would not say whether or not he has been.

'I have no further details on the president’s private correspondence,' she responded. 

Members of Congress were being briefed at the White House Monday afternoon as McEnany briefed in the press room. It remains unclear which members of Congress were invited. She said it was for 'eight members from the committees of jurisdiction, so there was a bipartisan invitation extended, but no further details other than that.'

But she repeatedly declined to say why lawmakers would be briefed and the president would not be. 

'The president is briefed on verified intelligence,' she said. '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. I really think that it is time for the New York Times to step back and ask themselves why they have been so wrong so often.'  

She ended her briefing with an attack on The New York Times and Washington Post - two frequent targets of the president's wrath for their stories on his administration. President Trump often labels stories in those outlets and others that he does not like as 'fake news.'

'It is inexcusable - the failed Russian reporting of the New York Times - and I think it's time that the New York Times and the Washington Post hand back their Pulitzer's,' McEnany said and left the briefing room.

And Banks also tweeted an attack on The New York Times after he left the White House briefing for Republican members of Congress.

'The real scandal: We’ll likely never know the truth… Because the @nytimes used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the President. The blood is on their hands,' he wrote. 

'Having served in Afghanistan during the time the alleged bounties were placed, no one is angrier about this than me. Now it’s impossible to finish the investigation. All b/c the @nytimes will do anything to damage @realdonaldtrump, even if it means compromising nat'l security,' he added. 

The White House defense comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding the Trump administration brief all House members on the issue. 

Pelosi, in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel, asked for a briefing for all members of the House.

'The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed,' she wrote.

'Congress and the country need answers now. 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 added.

Shortly there after, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer added his voice to the mix and demanded a similar briefing for the upper chamber.

'I am calling for the Directors of National Intelligence and the CIA to immediately brief all 100 Senators on reports that Russia placed bounties on US troops in Afghanistan. We need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when,' he said in a statement.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding the Trump administration brief all House members on intelligence reports that Russia offered to pay members of the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan 

And Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer demanded a briefing for senators

Several members of Congress demanded more information and that the president respond to Russian aggression.   

'This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything,' Pelosi said Sunday on ABC's 'This Week.'

'We have called for a report to the Congress on this. This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,' she said.

Even some Republicans demanded answers.

'I have asked the administration to share what it knows,' wrote Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, on Twitter.

'Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region,' tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who golfed with the president on Sunday. 

'Russia is not a partner, and not to be negotiated with. @realDonaldTrump needs to immediately expose and handle this, and stop Russia's shadow war,' tweeted Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a defense hawk and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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