Democrats have asked US intelligence chiefs to brief Congress on why Donald Trump took no action following claims that Russian operatives offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill Americans in Afghanistan.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, asked Gina Haspel, CIA director, and John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, to explain the claim, reported by The New York Times.
“The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” Ms Pelosi said. “The president’s refusal to stand up to the Russians also jeopardises lives in the region.”
The White House has not denied that some intelligence suggests Russia is targeting US troops, but Mr Trump said he was not briefed on the issue. The administration said some lawmakers would be briefed on Monday.
“Was the president briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed?” Ms Pelosi asked. “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.”
Mr Trump has pushed back against the article in The New York Times, describing it as “possibly another Russia hoax”. He said his intelligence team told him that he was not briefed because “they did not find this info credible”. But the claims have raised concerns that Mr Trump is again willing to pull his punches when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Trump has come under constant scrutiny over his stance on Russia. He stunned his own team last year when he said at a press conference with Mr Putin in Helsinki that he had no reason to doubt the Russian leader’s denial that the Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
Experts have asked why Mr Trump would not be briefed on accusations related to the safety of US troops. A few Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Liz Cheney, a member of the House Republican leadership, have joined Democrats in calling for answers.
Ms Cheney wrote on Twitter that if The New York Times report was true, the White House must explain why Mr Trump was not briefed and “what has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”
The White House has defended Mr Trump against the claims. John Ullyot, the National Security Council spokesperson, said “the veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated”. A senior official said Mr Trump was not briefed on the issue because “there is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations”.
Richard Grenell, the former US ambassador to Germany who served as acting director of national intelligence this year, has denied knowing about any of the claims.
“I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicise intelligence,” Mr Grenell told Ted Lieu, a Democratic lawmaker who asked why he had not briefed Mr Trump when he held the top intelligence role.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi