WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States should weigh new sanctions on Russia to deter its “malign” actions, a senior Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday after a White House briefing on a reported Russian effort to pay the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Democratic members of Congress emerged from the briefing critical of U.S. President Donald Trump, who the New York Times reported had received a written intelligence briefing on the suspected Russian program in late February.
The White House has said Trump did not receive a personal briefing on the issue but has yet to squarely address whether he had received a written briefing, whether he had read it, and why he had not responded more aggressively if he had.
The revelations seem to have caught members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, off guard and the White House’s shifting statements have generated controversy four months before the U.S. presidential election.
The suggestion that Trump may have ignored or not known about a threat to U.S. troops as he seeks to improve ties to Russia could damage him as he seeks re-election.
- Trump must have been aware of Russia bounty allegation, Democratic lawmaker says
- Russia bounty reports, if true, should lead to U.S. sanctions, John Bolton says
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, said Trump should be looking to impose costs on Moscow.
“We should be considering what sanctions are appropriate to further deter Russia’s malign activities,” Schiff told reporters.
The White House has sought to play down reports in the Times and the Washington Post that it knew of accusations that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and other coalition troops but had not briefed Trump or acted on the information.
The White House on Monday said there was no consensus on the information and that it would not be elevated to the president until verified.
However, the New York Times cited two unnamed officials as saying officials gave Trump a written briefing in late February laying out their conclusion that a Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The newspaper said it was in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) document – the premier product of U.S. intelligence agencies that is prepared for him to read.
A U.S. government source declined to confirm or deny the threat information was in a PDB in February but told Reuters material is sometimes included in PDBs so that other senior officials can evaluate it and follow up.
In this case, the source said that the matter was raised at a high level earlier this year, the intelligence is regarded as credible, and steps were taken to formulate a response.
The source suggested a response was still under discussion in the Trump administration and because of this, Trump arguably did not have to be involved as the information was checked out.
However, a Congressional source voiced skepticism that such information would be included in a PDB with an expectation the president would not read it and that others would deal with it.
Four U.S. government sources have confirmed to Reuters weekend media reports that credible U.S. intelligence reports suggested a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and allied forces.
Schiff said intelligence officials should know by now whether or not Trump reads reports – former aides have said he is not so inclined.
“And if it is something the president needs to know … that needs to be shared with him in the form that he takes it.”
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