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Top Senate Democrats request Esper, Pompeo testify over Russian bounties reports

30 Jun 2020 TheHill

Top Democrats are requesting that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper testify over multiple reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) — the top Democrats on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, respectively — along with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) sent a letter to the two administration officials on Tuesday, asking for details on how and when they learned about the intelligence. 

"U.S. service members raise their right hands to protect and defend the United States. They deserve a Commander in Chief who will respond forcefully if bounties are put on them by enemies of the United States. Given the grave nature of these allegations, we request that you appear before the Senate this week to address these questions," the Democratic senators wrote. 

The New York Times first reported Friday that the intelligence community concluded months ago that a unit within the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked militants for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.  

Trump was briefed on the intelligence, and officials had deliberated potential responses, but the White House had not authorized any further action, the report said.

The Democratic senators want to know when Pompeo and Esper first found out about the intelligence reports. They also want to know if Pompeo, during his conversations with Russian officials, tried to verify the intelligence and who within the State Department was aware of it.

From Esper, Democrats also specifically want to know if he is aware of any U.S. casualties in Afghanistan due to bounties placed by Russian intelligence and if protection measures were put in place.

Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on July 9, Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters in response to a question from The Hill. 

A Pentagon statement late Monday night said the department continues to evaluate the intelligence but that it has not “to date" found "corroborating evidence.”

The White House has briefed groups of lawmakers, including House Republicans, on Monday and had separate briefings with House Democrats and Senate Republicans on Tuesday. 

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is asking for a Senate-wide briefing. 

"In the short term, we need an agreement from the administration to conduct an immediate all-members briefing on the reports that Russia placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Senators need to hear directly from CIA Director [Gina] Haspel on these reports as soon as possible," Schumer said from the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Original Link: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/505269-top-senate-democrats-request-esper-pompeo-testify-over-russian-bounties

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