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White House launches hunt for leaker who revealed Russian bounties

07 Jul 2020 Daily Mail Online

White House officials are on the hunt for the person or persons who leaked the intelligence about the Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan to The New York Times.

Administration officials have interviewed people who had access to the intelligence and has the list of suspects narrowed down to less than 10 people, Politico's Playbook reported.

The White House reacted with fury when the Times first revealed the intelligence report that the Russian government was paying the Taliban to kill U.S. service members. Officials denied President Donald Trump knew about it and claimed the intelligence was 'unverified.' 

President Donald Trump has tried to find leakers in his administration on previous occasions and failed to do so

White House officials are on the hunt for the person or persons who leaked the intelligence about the Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan 

This isn't the first time the White House has been on the hunt for a leaker.

The administration vowed to find 'anonymous' - the person who wrote the resistance op-ed in The New York Times nearly two years ago and followed that up with a book 'A Warning.' The person claimed the many of the White House senior staff were working from within to counter Trump and 'his worst inclinations.' 

That person has not been found. 

The White House struggled to do damage control and contain the fallout from The June 28 report in The New York Times on the allegation against Russia. The administration has focused its counterattack on the argument that Trump was never briefed on the matter.

In his interview with Fox Business last week, Trump argued the intelligence community didn't even buy it. 

'From what I hear, and I hear it pretty good, the intelligence people didn't even - many of them didn't believe it happened at all. I think it's a hoax. I think it's a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats,' Trump said.

But the president declined to detail what he would do if the report turned out to be true, simply saying: 'If it did happen, the Russians would hear about it. And anybody else would hear about it that was involved.' 


Officials in the administration have not disputed the existence of the intelligence report but have said it was not verified and that was why it was not presented to President Trump.

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told 'Fox & Friends' last week the president wasn't briefed because the allegation against Russia was 'uncorroborated.'

But he also acknowledged the allegation was in Trump's briefing material - but the briefer didn't tell the president about it. 

'The president's career CIA briefer decided not to brief him because it was unverified intelligence and, by the way, she's an outstanding officer and - in knowing all the facts I know - I certainly support her decision,' he said. 

President Donald Trump said many in the intelligence community didn't believe a report that the Russian government was paying a bounty on American troops

Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told 'Fox & Friends' the president wasn't briefed because the allegation was 'uncorroborated' but O'Brien admitted information was in president's daily briefing - it just wasn't given to him by the CIA officer doing the briefing

O'Brien, after his appearance on Fox News, was asked by reporters at the White House if the information about Russia was in the president's daily brief but he declined to say either way.

'We don't get into to written classified documents. Unfortunately that that's something that there's been spent a little too much that in Washington lately,' he said. 

While Trump and his staff have argued he was not briefed on the matter, reports indicated the information was in the president's daily brief -  a compilation of intelligence reports given to the commander in chief and top administration officials. Trump is said not to read it carefully and is, instead, orally briefed on the matters at hand.

President's Daily Brief 

The President's Daily Brief (PDB) is a daily a multi-source intelligence digest of high-level information and analysis on national security issues produced for the president and key cabinet members and advisers.

It has been presented in some form to the president since 1946, when President Harry Truman received the Daily Summary.

In 2014, the PDB transitioned from a print product to electronic delivery at the request of President Barack Obama.

Given the sensitive nature of the information, most PDBs - even those from many years past - remain classified. 



O'Brien seems to confirm this with his account.

'The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval ... was a senior career civil servant, at a CIA officer,' he told reporters at the White House. 

'And she made that decision because she didn't have confidence in the intelligence that came up. We get raw intelligence and tactical intelligence, every day, hundreds of pieces of intelligence coming every day, thousands of pieces of intelligence come in a week. She made that call,' he said.

The New York Times reported in May that Trump's CIA briefer is Beth Sanner, who has three decades of experience. The piece also detailed how the president has a short attention span, rarely reads his daily brief (except for graphs and photos he likes to look at) and tends to get his information from conservative news outlets. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president wasn't angry about not being briefed because he has 'great faith' in his staff.

'The president believes that and has great faith and Ambassador O'Brien and the others who made the decision that this shouldn't be risen to his desk. It was a career CIA officer with more than 30 years of tenure who made the decision not to brief it up and the National Security Adviser agreed with that decision. She's an excellent officer and does great work,' she said last week at her press briefing.

'But this is unverified still at this very moment,' she added.  

McEnany also has said the president does read his briefing reports.

 'The President does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president I will tell you is the most informed person on planet earth when it comes to the threats that we face,' she claimed.   

As the administration has struggled to down play the shocking report, Democrats have piled onto the president, accusing him of a 'dereliction of duty' in the words of Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee who spoke in Wilmington last week.

'If these allegations are true and he did nothing about any of this, then, in fact, I think the public should - unrelated to my running - conclude this man is not fit to be the president of the United States of America,' Biden said of Trump.

Joe Biden said of Donald Trump that 'this man is not fit to be the president of the United States of America' during remarks in Wilmington on Tuesday

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (left with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the right) said 'there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn't want to hear'; Schiff and Hoyer were among the eight House Democrats briefed by the White House on Tuesday morning

Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged the White House with perpetuating a con when officials claimed the president wasn't briefed because the information was not 'verified'

Hillary Clinton, Trump's 2016 Democratic rival, criticized the president for not knowing about the intelligence.

'Either he knew and chose to do nothing, or he didn't know because he couldn't be bothered to do his job,' she wrote on Twitter. 

Biden also slammed Trump for reports he does not read his daily briefing, noting he and President Barack Obama read theirs every day when they were in office.

'The president brief was something I read every day as vice president. The president read it every day. I was briefed every morning before I got to the White House, and then again. The idea that somehow he didn't know or isn't being briefed, it's a dereliction of duty if that's the case. If he was briefed, and nothing was done about this, that is a dereliction of duty,' Biden said of Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that Trump should have been briefed on the intelligence.

'Of course, the president should have been briefed. This is of the highest priority force protection, a threat to our men and women in uniform,' she said at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.

She charged the White House with perpetuating a con when officials claimed the president wasn't briefed because the information was not 'verified.'

'The White House put on a con - that if you don't have 100% consensus on intelligence that it shouldn't rise to a certain level. Well we would practically be investigating nothing if you had to start off 100%. So don't buy into that. And neither does the intelligence community. It's gathering intelligence and they have enough intelligence to know where we have to go next with it,' she said.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said 'there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn't want to hear.'

Schiff made his comments last week after eight House Democrats received a briefing at the White House on the matter. 

'You briefed the president in the manner in which he or she receives information. If the president doesn't read the briefs, it makes it doesn't doesn't work to give him written product, and not tell him what's in it,' Schiff said.

'So, I don't want to comment on this particular case but I just say it's not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has. If he doesn't read, he doesn't read. They should know that by now,' he noted. 

Some Republicans have jumped to the president's defense.

'This morning I attended a long briefing at @WhiteHouse on reports about Putin putting bounties on our troops in Afghanistan. I'm confident @RealDonaldTrump didn't know about the report, and it's clear our intelligence agencies aren't in complete agreement on this,' wrote Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, on Twitter last week after his briefing.

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