President Donald Trump responded to a New York Times report claiming that U.S. intelligence officials learned that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked terrorists to kill American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Trump wrote on Twitter on June 28 that no one in his administration, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Vice President Mike Pence, briefed him on the allegations contained in the report, describing it as “fake news.”
“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes,” Trump wrote on the morning of June 28. “Everybody is denying it.
“There have not been many attacks on us. Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration.”
Over the weekend, the newspaper cited “officials briefed on the matter” for its report, while it noted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow hasn’t been made aware of the claims, while a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the allegations.
“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless—our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” Mujahid said. “That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
Aiming at The New York Times, Trump said the newspaper used an anonymous source to obtain the report and must reveal the person in order for it to be credible.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe echoed Trump’s sentiment, writing that he “confirmed that neither the president nor the vice president were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday.”
Statement by DNI Ratcliffe: “I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday.” (1/2)
— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) June 28, 2020
The White House also addressed the issue, and it denied that a briefing ever occurred, according to his office. “The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate,” Ratcliffe wrote.
News of the alleged Russian-backed scheme was met with scorn by top Democrats, including 2020 candidate Joe Biden. In a virtual town hall event on June 27, Biden suggested that if The New York Times published an accurate report, Trump should face consequences.
Biden repeated longstanding Democratic allegations that Trump has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that his “entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale.”
“It’s betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way. It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas,” he said.
Trump denied Biden’s claims, reiterating his claim that the Kremlin took advantage of the former vice president as well as former President Barack Obama.
“Funny to see Corrupt Joe Biden reading a statement on Russia, which was obviously written by his handlers,” Trump wrote. “Russia ate his and Obama’s lunch during their time in office, so badly that Obama wanted them out of the then G-8. U.S. was weak on everything, but especially Russia!”
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he reached out to the Trump administration after reading the NY Times report.
“If accurate, the administration must take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable,” McCaul said. He added that the report deepens his concerns about Moscow’s “malicious behavior globally.”
Russia called the report “nonsense.”
“This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to the Associated Press.