CLUE­LESS

DON PLEADS IG­NO­RANCE ON RUS­SIA BOUNTY BRIEF­ING

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE GOLDINER AND CHRIS SOMMERFELD­T

The White House in­sisted Mon­day that Pres­i­dent Trump still hasn’t been briefed on U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments about an al­leged Rus­sian plot to kill Amer­i­can sol­diers, even as mem­bers of Congress were in line to re­ceive clas­si­fied up­dates.

“A spe­cific mes­sage for Moscow? No, be­cause he has not been briefed on the mat­ter,” White House press sec­re­tary Kayleigh McE­nany told re­porters af­ter she was asked if Trump had a mes­sage for the Krem­lin in light of re­ports that Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agency of­fered cash bounties for Tal­iban ex­trem­ists to kill U.S. ser­vice mem­bers in Afghanista­n.

McE­nany’s de­nial ap­peared to con­tra­dict Trump’s claim in a late Sun­day tweet that he had spo­ken to U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials about the al­leged in­ter­cepts.

“In­tel just re­ported to me that they did not find this info cred­i­ble, and there­fore did not re­port it to me,” he tweeted.

More­over, McE­nany’s claim that Trump had not been looped in came even as she said key mem­bers of Congress were at the White House to be briefed on the damn­ing in­tel­li­gence.

McE­nany de­clined to ex­plain why law­mak­ers would be briefed on in­tel on which Trump sup­pos­edly re­mains in the dark.

In­stead, she em­pha­sized that there were dis­agree­ments within the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity on the cred­i­bil­ity of the in­for­ma­tion about the al­leged Rus­sian bounty plot.

“There is no con­sen­sus within the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity on th­ese al­le­ga­tions and in ef­fect, there are dis­sent­ing opin­ions from some in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity with re­gards to the ve­rac­ity of what’s be­ing re­ported and the ve­rac­ity of the un­der­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions con­tinue to be eval­u­ated,” McE­nany said.

McE­nany said the brief­ings un­der­way at the White House on Mon­day af­ter­noon were set up by Trump chief of staff Mark Mead­ows and that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.), as well as House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer (DMd.), had been con­tacted.

How­ever, a source fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter told the Daily News that only Repub­li­cans were invited to the closed-door brief­ing, even as Hoyer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Demo­cratic brass were de­mand­ing an­swers.

“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,” Pelosi wrote in a Mon­day let­ter to John Rat­cliffe, Trump’s hand­picked Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence.

A Hoyer staffer said the White House agreed to meet with the ma­jor­ity leader and “a hand­ful” of other Democrats on Tues­day morn­ing for a brief­ing.

“How­ever, this brief­ing is not a sub­sti­tute for an all-House brief­ing, and Leader Hoyer is urg­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to sched­ule one im­me­di­ately,” the staffer said.

The New York Times first

re­ported late Fri­day that in­for­ma­tion on the Rus­sian bounty op­er­a­tion was in­cluded sev­eral months ago in Trump’s pres­i­den­tial daily brief — a highly sen­si­tive doc­u­ment com­piled by the CIA that gives the com­man­der-in-chief an over­view of U.S. in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing oper­a­tions across the globe.

The ex­plo­sive re­port set off a firestorm of con­tro­versy, with law­mak­ers vow­ing to in­ves­ti­gate, de­mand­ing brief­ings and ques­tion­ing whether Trump looked the other way as Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s regime tried to have Amer­i­can sol­diers killed.

On Mon­day night, The As­so­ci­ated Press, cit­ing un­named U.S. of­fi­cials, re­ported top White House of­fi­cials were ac­tu­ally aware of the bounty op­er­a­tion in early 2019 — a full year ear­lier than has been pre­vi­ously re­ported.

And the as­sess­ment was in­cluded in at least one of Trump’s writ­ten daily in­tel­li­gence brief­ings at the time, ac­cord­ing to the AP. Then­na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton also told col­leagues he briefed Trump on the in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment in March 2019.

Trump and White House of­fi­cials have pushed back, say­ing he was never briefed on the al­leged Rus­sian ef­forts.

The Krem­lin has ve­he­mently de­nied the bounty plot, as has Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

In her Mon­day brief­ing, McE­nany no­tably de­clined to say whether the in­tel­li­gence had ever ap­peared in Trump’s daily brief, only claim­ing the pres­i­dent was never “per­son­ally briefed.”

Even some Repub­li­cans are break­ing with their usual lock­step sup­port of Trump in light of the Rus­sia rev­e­la­tions.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a mem­ber of House GOP lead­er­ship, asked pointed ques­tions over the week­end about Trump’s re­sponse to the in­tel­li­gence re­port.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (RS.C.), a key Trump ally who golfed with the pres­i­dent over the week­end, wrote in a tweet that it’s “im­per­a­tive” to get to the bot­tom of the con­tro­versy.

Trump did not of­fer any ev­i­dence to sup­port his claim that in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials did not be­lieve the re­port. He also did not of­fer proof that nei­ther he nor Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence knew of the al­le­ga­tions. Pence has re­fused to com­ment so far.

Ac­cord­ing to the Times, U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies shared their find­ings about the Rus­sian plot with their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts be­cause the Krem­lin pay­ments also ap­plied to mur­ders of U.K. sol­diers who are part of a coali­tion sup­port­ing the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

It’s un­clear if the al­leged Rus­sian plot re­sulted in any U.S. deaths, though of­fi­cials are re­port­edly ex­am­in­ing a 2019 am­bush in which three Amer­i­can sol­diers were killed by Tal­iban fight­ers.

Feli­cia Ar­culeo, the mother of Robert Hen­driks, a Ma­rine cor­po­ral killed in the April 2019 at­tack, called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Rus­sian money was re­spon­si­ble for her son’s death.

“The par­ties who are re­spon­si­ble should be held ac­count­able, if that’s even pos­si­ble,” Ar­cuelo, who lives on Long Is­land, told CNBC late Mon­day.

Law­mak­ers ques­tion if pres­i­dent looked other way as Rus­sian Prez Vladimir Putin (main photo with Trump) tried to have G.I.s killed. White House press sec­re­tary Kayleigh McE­nany (up­per r.) pleaded ig­no­rance on Trump’s be­half. Chief of staff Mark Mead­ows (l.) set up brief­ings for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (op­po­site page) and oth­ers.

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