United Congress Pushes for Answers From Trump On Russian Bounties In Afghanistan

June 30, 2020 by Dan McCue
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md. leaves an intelligence briefing on reports of a Russian operation to pay Afghan militants targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, at the White House, Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – Members of both parties on Capitol Hill continue to demand answers from the Trump administration about reported bounties paid by Russian operatives to Afghan insurgents for targeting American troops.

Administration officials held a briefing for a limited number of House Republicans on Monday, and a group of House Democrats, led by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is scheduled to travel to the White House Tuesday for a similar session.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says disclosure of what happened to a limited few is not enough and she has sent a letter to the White House to formally request a briefing for all members of the House soon.

She reiterated that request directly to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel in calls Monday evening.

The New York Times first reported the existence of the alleged plot on Friday, basing its account on unnamed officials briefed on the matter.

According to the report, the recovery of large amounts of American currency at a Taliban outpost in Afghanistan helped tip off U.S. officials.

It is believed that at least one U.S. soldier died as a result of the bounties, the Times said.

Most troubling of all, however, is an assertion by the Times that President Trump has been aware of the bounty practice since earlier this year but he and his deputies haven’t acted in response.

“The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” Pelosi wrote in her letter.

“Nobody briefed or told me, [vice president Mike] Pence, or chief of staff Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians,” Trump tweeted in part. “Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us …”

Nevertheless, in light of the information regarding the bounty, military and intelligence officials have reportedly been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties over the past 18 months to determine whether any were victims of the plot.

Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.

“I think it is absolutely essential that we get the information and be able to judge its credibility,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Another top House Republican demanding more information was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

In a Tweet on Monday, Cheney said if reporting about Russian bounties on U.S forces is true, “the White House must explain: Why wasn’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? Who did know and when? What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., co-chair of Administration for the Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats also weighed in, saying in a statement that “the Administration should immediately provide a bipartisan briefing to Congress — not just Republicans or Democrats separately — on the intelligence behind allegations that Russia paid the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.”

“If the reports are verified to be true, the United States must hold Putin to account for his thuggish, murderous actions,” the Florida Democrat said. “After Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections, the Blue Dogs called on Congress to pass the most hard-hitting sanctions ever imposed against Russia. If true, the latest reports merit a strong and swift response from Congress and would reinforce the need for the president to strengthen the NATO alliance rather than undermining it at every turn.”

Joe Biden, Trump’s presidential rival, accused Trump in a virtual town hall on Saturday of betraying U.S. troops by failing to act on the intelligence reports.

“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden said.

“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale. It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”

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