GOP law­mak­ers con­firmed that in­tel­li­gence agen­cies de­vel­oped in­for­ma­tion about a Rus­sian op­er­a­tion tar­get­ing U.S. and al­lied forces in Afghanista­n but said a re­sponse should wait for a full re­view.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SE­UNG MIN KIM se­ung-min.kim@wash­post.com

Se­nate Repub­li­cans are call­ing for a tougher pos­ture against Rus­sia fol­low­ing re­ports that the coun­try’s mil­i­tary spy unit of­fered to pay Tal­iban-linked mil­i­tants to at­tack U.S. troops in Afghanista­n — putting the GOP law­mak­ers once again po­ten­tially at odds with Pres­i­dent Trump over how to com­bat Moscow’s ag­gres­sion to­ward the United States.

Trump and the White House re­peat­edly de­nied Mon­day that the pres­i­dent had been briefed on the ef­forts against coali­tion forces in Afghanista­n, which are be­lieved to have led to the deaths of sev­eral U.S. ser­vice mem­bers. White House press sec­re­tary Kayleigh Mce­nany said Trump had not been told of the in­tel­li­gence be­cause it had not been ver­i­fied and de­clined to say if the pres­i­dent had been briefed since news of the boun­ties be­came pub­lic.

But on Capi­tol Hill, Repub­li­can sen­a­tors de­manded more in­for­ma­tion from the ad­min­is­tra­tion and called for Rus­sia to be pun­ished if re­ports from the New York Times, The Washington Post and other me­dia out­lets were deemed ac­cu­rate. The Repub­li­cans took a no­tably tougher pub­lic tone than Trump did, al­though they mostly avoided the ques­tion of whether the pres­i­dent should have been aware of the in­tel­li­gence.

While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken some ag­gres­sive mea­sures against Rus­sia, the pres­i­dent’s con­cil­i­tary tone to­ward Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vlad­mir Putin continues to be a thorny po­lit­i­cal prob­lem for Repub­li­cans who have ad­vo­cated a more hawk­ish ap­proach to­ward the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader.

The lat­est re­ports that the Rus­sian boun­ties may have re­sulted in the deaths of sev­eral U.S. ser­vice mem­bers only in­crease the po­ten­tial prob­lems for Repub­li­cans look­ing to take a tougher stance to­ward Moscow with­out ap­pear­ing to be at odds with a pres­i­dent who has con­sid­er­able sway with the party’s vot­ers.

Sen. Cory Gard­ner (R- Colo.) called the re­ports “deeply trou­bling” and said he wanted the Se­nate to pass his leg­is­la­tion that would re­quire the State De­part­ment to con­sider nam­ing Rus­sia a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism. Sen. Thom Til­lis (R-N.C.), who like Gard­ner is in a tough re­elec­tion race this fall, sim­i­larly called for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to treat Rus­sia as a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism.

“From prop­ping up the mur­der­ous As­sad regime (in Syria) and our en­e­mies in Afghanista­n, Putin’s Rus­sia has made clear they are no friend to the United States,” Gard­ner wrote Mon­day on Twit­ter. “They’ve tar­geted our in­sti­tu­tions and our troops — the US must re­spond.”

Sen. Todd C. Young (R-ind.), a for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in the Marines, said the Rus­sia-fi­nanced bounty ef­fort, if con­firmed, “de­serves a strong and im­me­di­ate re­sponse from our gov­ern­ment.”

Young, who also heads the Se­nate Repub­li­cans’ cam­paign arm, called for hear­ings and for Trump to re­scind any in­vi­ta­tion for Rus­sia to re­join the Group of Seven, which is com­posed of the world’s ma­jor in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions, as well as di­rect sanc­tions on Putin.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-neb.) also called for an ag­gres­sive re­sponse if the in­for­ma­tion from U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies holds up.

“If true, what we’re talk­ing about here is putting the tar­get crosshairs on the backs of Amer­i­can ser­vice­men and women in uni­form, and I have heard from a lot of Ne­braskan mil­i­tary fam­i­lies this week­end, and they’re livid. They have a right to be livid,” he said.

He said Congress needs to find out what Trump was or was not told.

“Who knew what, when, and did the com­man­der in chief know? And if not, how the hell not? What is go­ing on in that process?” he asked, adding: “What are we go­ing to do to im­pose pro­por­tional cost in re­sponse? In a sit­u­a­tion like this, that would mean Tal­iban and GRU body bags.” GRU is the ab­bre­vi­a­tion for the Rus­sian mil­i­tary spy unit.

The re­ac­tion from con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans on Mon­day was markedly dif­fer­ent than the com­ments from Trump, who dis­missed the re­ports as “pos­si­bly an­other fab­ri­cated Rus­sia Hoax” — his ref­er­ence to the probe ear­lier in his pres­i­dency led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III that ex­am­ined po­ten­tial col­lu­sion be­tween Trump as­so­ci­ates and Rus­sia. The pres­i­dent has con­tin­ued to dis­miss the con­clu­sion of U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials that Moscow in­ter­fered in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in his fa­vor.

Left largely un­ad­dressed in many GOP sen­a­tors’ pub­lic com­ments, how­ever, was Trump’s role in the mat­ter and what he should do now, with few ques­tions from Se­nate Repub­li­cans on Mon­day about the White House’s con­tention that the pres­i­dent was left in the dark about an in­tel­li­gence is­sue that had prompted a re­stricted high-level White House meet­ing in late March. Rus­sia and the Tal­iban have de­nied the ex­is­tence of the pro­gram.

“Well, I think the pres­i­dent can’t sin­gle-hand­edly re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing, I’m sure, that he’s briefed on, but the in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials are fa­mil­iar with it and briefed him,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-tex.). “But again some­body’s leak­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and then try­ing to fur­ther a nar­ra­tive that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily sup­ported by the facts.”

Mce­nany re­peat­edly said at a White House brief­ing Mon­day that there was not a con­sen­sus among in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials about the ac­cu­racy of the in­for­ma­tion on the boun­ties.

“When our ad­ver­saries have di­rectly tar­geted U.S. or coali­tion part­ners, the pres­i­dent has not hes­i­tated to act,” Mce­nany said. “But this was not briefed up to the pres­i­dent be­cause it was not, in fact, ver­i­fied.”

Con­gres­sional Democrats raised alarm about the re­ports, pub­lished over the week­end, and both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for brief­ings of their full cham­bers by in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials.

A group of House Democrats, led by Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer, will be briefed on the is­sue at the White House at 8 a.m. Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to an aide to the Mary­land Demo­crat. Hoyer has asked that the fol­low­ing Democrats be in­cluded: For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Eliot L. En­gel (N.Y.), Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Smith ( Wash.), In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), Gre­gory W. Meeks (N.Y.), Brad Sher­man (Calif.), Wil­liam R. Keat­ing (Mass.), Ruben Gal­lego (Ariz.), Abi­gail Span­berger ( Va.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.).

But the brief­ing will not be an ad­e­quate sub­sti­tute for an all-mem­ber brief­ing, said the aide, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss a na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ter.

Schumer sug­gested that law­mak­ers should use the na­tional de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill, the an­nual leg­is­la­tion de­tail­ing pol­icy priorities for the Pen­tagon that sen­a­tors are work­ing on this week, to pun­ish the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

“Pres­i­dent Trump, you lose ei­ther way,” Schumer said Mon­day dur­ing a speech on the Se­nate floor. “If you weren’t briefed on this im­por­tant re­port, how can you run an ad­min­is­tra­tion where some­thing this im­por­tant is not brought to your level?

“If you were told about the re­port and did noth­ing, that’s even worse.”

Some of the pres­i­dent’s clos­est al­lies in the House GOP ranks took a dif­fer­ent stance after a brief­ing at the White House, with at least one emerg­ing from the closed-door ses­sion and ac­cus­ing jour­nal­ists of dam­ag­ing an on­go­ing in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-ind.) lashed out at the New York Times, which first pub­lished the re­port, by ac­cus­ing the news­pa­per of com­pro­mis­ing a na­tional se­cu­rity probe.

“The blood is on their hands,” Banks tweeted. “Hav­ing served in Afghanista­n dur­ing the time the al­leged boun­ties were placed, no one is an­grier about this than me. Now it’s im­pos­si­ble to fin­ish the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

But two Repub­li­cans who re­ceived the brief­ing — Reps. Michael Mccaul (Tex.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — called for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to take “swift and se­ri­ous ac­tion” against Putin should the in­tel­li­gence bear out to be true.

Se­nior Se­nate Repub­li­can lead­ers and heads of key com­mit­tees did not dis­close how much, if at all, they were aware of the in­tel­li­gence.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell (R-KY.) de­clined to re­spond when asked whether he had been briefed on the mat­ter. Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-fla.), the act­ing chair­man of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, de­clined to com­ment on specifics but said that the “tar­get­ing of our troops by for­eign ad­ver­saries via prox­ies is a well-es­tab­lished threat.”

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

In­tel­li­gence on Rus­sian ef­forts against U.S. troops in Afghanista­n “was not briefed up to the pres­i­dent,” White House press sec­re­tary Kayleigh Mce­nany told re­porters.

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