– President Donald Trump on Sunday said he was never briefed about Russian efforts to pay bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, blasting a New York Times report that he had been told about Moscow’s cash rewards but had not moved to respond.
The White House and the Director of National Intelligence on Saturday denied the report.
“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” Trump tweeted, calling on the newspaper to reveal its source.
The Times on Friday reported that U.S. intelligence had concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year on American and coalition soldiers, and that Islamist militants or those associated with them were believed to have collected some bounty money.
Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the report.
Democrats, including Trump’s likely challenger Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, cited the report and Trump’s denial as more evidence of the president ignoring allegations against Russia in a bid to accommodate President Vladimir Putin.
“There is something very wrong here. But this must have an answer,” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News, adding that Trump has already given “gifts” to Putin by diminishing U.S. leadership in NATO, reducing U.S. forces in Germany and inviting Russia back into the G8.
U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference in New York on Sunday that the report showed the need for tough sanctions against Russia in the defense bill that the Senate will debate this week.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation chief executive Adam Boehler had departed on Sunday for Doha, Islamabad and Tashkent to “urge support for all Afghans” ahead of Afghan peace talks and would also conduct video meetings with Afghan officials during the trip.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)