President Donald Trump was not briefed on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militias to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan due to concern over the accuracy of the intelligence, a White House spokeswoman said Monday.
“There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations,” Kayleigh McEnany said after Democrats demanded a briefing on what Trump knew and when.
“In fact, there are dissenting opinions,” said McEnany, who denied the president had been briefed on the explosive claims.
McEnany said that a briefing was underway at the White House for senior leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss the issue.
Both Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, had earlier called for an urgent briefing on the reports.
However, some US media sources reported the meeting only included Republican leaders, and Pelosi’s office said earlier they had not received an invite.
The New York Times report, citing anonymous officials, said Trump had been told about findings, which he has denied.
McEnany said the White House briefing “will clear up a lot of the false reporting from The New York Times. The president has made clear that he’s never been briefed.”
“The intelligence is verified before it reaches the President of the United States. In this case it wasn’t verified,” she said.
– ‘Inexplicable behavior’ –
In a letter released earlier and addressed to John Ratcliffe, the director of National Intelligence, and CIA director Gina Haspel, Pelosi said, “The questions that arise are: was the president briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed.”
The Times report, which has been confirmed by several American and British media outlets, said that US intelligence concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants to kill troops of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
The rewards were purportedly incentives to target US forces as Trump tries to withdraw troops from the conflict-torn country — one of the militants’ key demands — and end America’s longest war.
Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, asked the intelligence chiefs to hold an interagency briefing for all members of the House of Representatives on the reports and “President Trump’s inexplicable behavior towards Russia.”
“Congress and the country need answers now,” Pelosi said, adding that the briefing should also focus on “what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”
Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, echoed her call.
“We need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when,” he said.
Trump on Sunday denied having been briefed on the matter, as the report renewed questions about his reluctance to confront Russia.
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” he tweeted.
But even in Republican ranks, there were expressions of concern at the gravity of the allegations.
“If intelligence reports are verified that Russia or any other country is placing bounties on American troops, then they need to be treated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” said Thom Tillis, a Republican on the Senate Armed Forces committee, on Twitter.
According to official Pentagon figures, no member of the US armed forces has been killed in Afghanistan since late March.