Trump faces pres­sure on Rus­sian boun­ties

Times Standard (Eureka) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Clare Jalonick, Zeke Miller and James La­porta

WASH­ING­TON » Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day came un­der grow­ing pres­sure to re­spond to al­le­ga­tions that Rus­sia of­fered boun­ties for killing Amer­i­can troops in Afghanista­n, with Democrats de­mand­ing an­swers and ac­cus­ing Trump of bow­ing to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at the risk of U.S. sol­diers’ lives.

Frus­trated House Democrats re­turn­ing from a brief­ing at the White House said they learned noth­ing new about Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments that sug­gested Rus­sia was mak­ing over­tures to mil­i­tants as the U.S. and the Tal­iban held talks to end the con­flict in Afghanista­n. Se­nate Repub­li­cans who at­tended a sep­a­rate brief­ing largely de­fended the pres­i­dent, ar­gu­ing along with the White House that the in­tel­li­gence was un­ver­i­fied.

The in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments were first re­ported by The New

York Times, then con­firmed to The Associated Press by Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and oth­ers with knowl­edge of the mat­ter.

White House press sec­re­tary Kayleigh McE­nany said Tues­day that Trump had been briefed on the in­tel­li­gence, a day af­ter say­ing he hadn’t be­cause it had not been ver­i­fied. McE­nany added that there were still reser­va­tions within the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity on the ve­rac­ity of the al­le­ga­tions, and in­sisted that Trump would act to safe­guard Amer­i­can forces.

“Make no mis­take. This pres­i­dent will al­ways pro­tect Amer­i­can troops,” she said.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer and a small group of other House Democrats met with White House of­fi­cials as Trump down­played the al­le­ga­tions and aides said he had not been briefed on them. 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 de­fense that he hasn’t been briefed is in­ex­cus­able.

“Many of us do not un­der­stand his affin­ity for that au­to­cratic ruler who means our na­tion ill,” Schiff said.

Rep. Mikie Sher­rill, DN.J., a fresh­man and for­mer Navy he­li­copter pilot and Rus­sia pol­icy of­fi­cer, said White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows briefed the group. She said the Democrats told the White House briefers that the pres­i­dent should make a state­ment.

“Th­ese are very con­cern­ing al­le­ga­tions and if they’re true, Rus­sia is go­ing to face reper­cus­sions,” Sher­rill said. “We re­ally pushed that strongly in the meet­ing.”

She wouldn’t say how the White House of­fi­cials re­acted or say if the briefers told the Democrats that in fact Trump had been briefed.

Trump and his aides set a high bar for brief­ing a pres­i­dent since it is rare for in­tel­li­gence to be con­firmed with­out a shadow of doubt be­fore it is pre­sented to se­nior gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion­mak­ers.

McE­nany de­clined to say why a dif­fer­ent stan­dard of con­fi­dence in the in­tel­li­gence might ap­ply to brief­ing law­mak­ers than for bring­ing in­for­ma­tion to the pres­i­dent.

Some House Repub­li­cans who were briefed by the White House on Mon­day also said they left with ques­tions.

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.

But Se­nate Repub­li­cans seemed less con­cerned and ques­tioned the me­dia re­ports. Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell said he didn’t think Trump should be “sub­jected to ev­ery ru­mor.”

“Conclusion­s, ap­par­ently, were not reached,” Mc­Connell said.

And 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 didn’t know 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.”

Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Marco Ru­bio said he be­lieved the U.S. was pre­pared “to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to pro­tect our men or women sta­tioned abroad, from a va­ri­ety of threats.”

Ru­bio said new Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence John Rat­cliffe, one of the briefers, would be meet­ing with the Se­nate panel for a pre­vi­ously-sched­uled meet­ing on Wed­nes­day.

Se­na­tors re­viewed clas­si­fied doc­u­ments re­lated to the al­le­ga­tions Mon­day evening and Tues­day, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion that was not pre­vi­ously known, ac­cord­ing to one aide who was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. It was un­clear what was con­tained in the doc­u­ments.

Some Repub­li­can se­na­tors did ex­press frus­tra­tion.

Ne­braska Repub­li­can Ben Sasse, a mem­ber of the in­tel­li­gence panel, said Mon­day evening that Congress should fo­cus on find­ing out who knew what, and when, “and did the com­man­der in chief know? And if not, how the hell not?”

While Rus­sian med­dling in Afghanista­n isn’t new, of­fi­cials said Rus­sian op­er­a­tives be­came more ag­gres­sive in their de­sire to con­tract with the Tal­iban and mem­bers of the Haqqani Network, a mil­i­tant group aligned with the Tal­iban in Afghanista­n and des­ig­nated a for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2012.

The in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing an April 2019 at­tack on an Amer­i­can con­voy that killed three U.S. Marines af­ter a car rigged with ex­plo­sives det­o­nated near their ar­mored ve­hi­cles as they trav­eled back to Ba­gram Air­field, the largest U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion in Afghanista­n, of­fi­cials told the AP.

Three other U.S. ser­vice mem­bers were wounded in the at­tack, along with an Afghan con­trac­tor. The Tal­iban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack. The of­fi­cials the AP spoke to also said they were look­ing closely at in­sider attacks — some­times called “green-on-blue” attacks — from 2019 to de­ter­mine if they are also linked to Rus­sian boun­ties.

One of­fi­cial said the ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­cussed sev­eral po­ten­tial re­sponses, but the White House has yet to au­tho­rize any.

In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials told the AP that the White House first be­came aware of al­leged Rus­sian boun­ties in early 2019 — a year ear­lier than had been pre­vi­ously re­ported. The as­sess­ments were in­cluded in one of Trump’s writ­ten daily brief­ings at the time, and then Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton told col­leagues he had briefed Trump on the mat­ter. Bolton de­clined to com­ment on that mat­ter, and the White House did not re­spond to ques­tions.

ALEX BRAN­DON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, right, speaks ac­com­pa­nied by House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., dur­ing a news con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill, af­ter a meet­ing at the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

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