DON PLEADS IGNORANCE ON RUSSIA BOUNTY BRIEFING
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.