President Donald Trump said that US intelligence officials “simply” told him that there was no credible information to suggest that Russian intelligence had offered to pay rewards to Taliban militants who killed US soldiers.
Because of this, intelligence officials did not initially report the allegations to him or Vice President Mike Pence, Trump wrote in a tweet Sunday night.
Three people briefed on the matter told NBC News that the United States had collected intelligence that Russian intelligence officials had offered to pay the rewards. NBC News has not confirmed that the US verified that such reward payments were made.
The news reported by The New York Times on Friday prompted calls for an investigation by Congress.
NBC News sources could not clarify how persuasive the intelligence is. A source told the Times that the evaluation was based in part on interviews with Afghan detainees. That alone would not prove the case, but the US almost certainly would have tried to receive communications interceptions from the Russians who shed light. In the past, the National Security Agency has been successful in penetrating Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU.
Trump previously tweeted that “no one informed me or told me,” Vice President Mike Pence or White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on intelligence. He called The Times to “reveal” his source.
Late Saturday, the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, also denied that Trump had been informed.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said in a statement Saturday that the president and other top officials were not “briefed on alleged Russian reward intelligence.”
However, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi told ABC “This Week” on Sunday that the president “wants to ignore any charges against Russia” by denying intelligence.
“The president will not confront the Russians in this regard, he denies having been informed,” Pelosi said. “Whether it is or not, your administration knows it, and our allies, some of our allies working with us in Afghanistan, were informed and accepted this report.”
The intelligence had been shared with leaders of Congress and the British government, according to NBC News sources.
The president’s latest comments followed a call from Trump’s ally, Senator Lindsay Graham, RS.C., for Congress to “get to the bottom” of the reports.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., who is part of the armed services subcommittee on military personnel, also called for a joint investigation by Congress in a statement Sunday.
A senior administration official told NBC News on Monday that some members of Congress will be briefed at the White House on the Russia issue.
The Kremlin has not commented on the intelligence reports. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has denied the claims it paid to militants in Afghanistan.
“This unsophisticated fabrication demonstrates the low intellectual capacities of propagandists in the American intelligence community,” the ministry told Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency on Saturday.
An intelligence official said the report is not particularly surprising given the tense history between the United States and Russia. The Americans armed Afghan fighters with missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was fighting in Afghanistan, part of a CIA covert action that killed many Russians. In 2018, US forces killed several Russian mercenaries operating with pro-regime forces in Syria.
Kelly O’Donnell, Matthew Bodner, Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker contributed