President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed as “Fake News” allegations that Russia offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan. He said reports regarding the allegations were made up to “damage me and the Republican Party.”
Lawmakers have been requesting answers over the allegations, and Democrats have accused Trump of bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the risk of U.S. soldiers’ lives.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that he had not been briefed on intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties because there wasn’t corroborating evidence.
“The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party,” Trump tweeted. “The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself.”
The president’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said the intelligence wasn’t brought to the president’s attention initially because it was unverified and there was no consensus among the intelligence community.
O’Brien insisted that the CIA and Pentagon did pursue the lead and briefed international allies. But he echoed the recent White House talking point faulting not Russia but government leakers and the media for making the matter public.
He told “Fox & Friends” that he had prepared a list of retaliatory options for Trump if the intelligence was corroborated.
“We had options ready to go,” said O’Brien. “It may be impossible to get to the bottom of it.”
Trump has been under pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to address the reports.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a small group of other House Democrats met with White House officials as Trump downplayed the allegations. The Democrats questioned why Trump wouldn’t have been briefed sooner and pushed White House officials to have the president make a strong statement about the matter.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of the Democrats who attended the briefing, said it was “inexplicable” why Trump won’t say publicly that he is working to get to the bottom of the issue and why he won’t call out Putin. He said Trump’s defence that he hadn’t been briefed was inexcusable.
Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said the panel would “leave no stone unturned” in seeking further information. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming insisted there would be “ramifications” for any targeting of Americans.
The White House was working to schedule a briefing for Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Republicans and Democrats on the two intelligence committees according to a person familiar with the talks. The person declined to be identified because the so-called Gang of 8 briefing will be classified. That group receives the most sensitive information in regular meetings with administration officials.
A separate group of Senate Republicans briefed in the White House Situation Room on Tuesday appeared mostly satisfied with the answers they received. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said he was “convinced” Trump hadn’t known about the intelligence. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Trump “can’t be made aware of every piece of unverified intelligence.”
News source: The Associated Press