Intelligence assessing that Russia had offered bounties to incentivize Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition troops in Afghanistan was included in a written briefing for President Trump, according to multiple reports.
CNN first reported Monday, citing an unnamed source, that the intelligence was included in one of Trump’s daily briefings in the spring. The New York Times later reported, citing two unnamed sources, that officials provided a written briefing in late February to Trump about the intelligence assessment.
And The Associated Press, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday that top officials in the White House were aware of classified intelligence indicating Russia was offering bounties for the deaths of Americans in early 2019.
An official reportedly told CNN the assessment was backed up by “several pieces of information” that supported the view that there was an effort by the Russian intelligence unit, the GRU, to pay bounties to kill U.S. soldiers but added that there was also information that did not corroborate this view.
“This was a big deal. When it’s about U.S. troops you go after it 100 percent, with everything you got,” the official said.
Trump has denied being briefed on the matter, and CNN reported that he doesn’t always read the President’s Daily Brief from cover to cover.
The official told the news network the information was serious enough for the National Security Council staff to hold a meeting during the spring to discuss “possible response options.”
Two officials told the Times the intelligence was included as part of Trump’s daily briefing document in February of 2020. One official told the Times it appeared in a brief in late February, and the other cited Feb. 27, specifically.
The officials told the Times a description of the intelligence assessment was seen as solid enough to disseminate more broadly across the intelligence community in a May 4 article in the C.I.A’s World Intelligence Review.
Officials told the AP the assessment was included in at least one of Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings as early as spring 2019.
The AP reports that then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.
Officials told the AP they did not consider the intelligence assessments in 2019 to be particularly urgent, as Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not new. Officials with knowledge of Bolton’s apparent briefing for the president said it contained no “actionable intelligence,” but the classified assessment of Russian bounties was the sole purpose of the meeting, according to the AP.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment to The Hill about the CNN report. The Hill also reached out to the White House regarding the Times’ report corroborating CNN’s earlier reporting, and the AP report.
On Sunday, Trump denied ever being briefed about the “so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians” after multiple news sources, beginning with The New York Times, reported on intelligence information about the Russian bounties.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Russian bounties had led to deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“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 tweeted.
“Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us. Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine – Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their ‘source’?” he added.
Asked about the reports during a briefing Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there’s “no consensus within the intelligence community” on the veracity of the intelligence and denied that Trump was briefed on the information.
“He was not briefed on this, and neither was the vice president,” McEnany said.
“There’s no consensus in the intel community, and, in fact, there are dissenting opinions from some within it,” she added.
Pressed on whether the information was in the president’s daily briefing, McEnany said that “he was not personally briefed on the matter.”
“That is all I can share with you today, is that both the CIA director, the national security adviser and the chief of staff can all confirm neither the president or the vice president was briefed,” she added.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are demanding answers regarding the reports about the Russian bounties, including Republicans who are often hesitant to confront Trump.
Top intelligence officials criticized leaks of information as detrimental to investigations.
“When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation. In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community—and with U.S. allies—as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas,” CIA Director Gina Haspel said in a statement Monday. “Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said in a separate statement that the “selective leaking of any classified information disrupts the vital interagency work to collect, assess, and mitigate threats and places our forces at risk.”
He added, “It is also, simply put, a crime.”