Trump struggles as fury grows over reported Russian reward offer to kill US troops


President Trump, confronted with a damaging report that Russia offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants for killing US and allied troops in Afghanistan, said on Twitter on Sunday that he was never informed of the finding by US intelligence. .

Democrats, including possible Trump presidential rival Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, harshly criticized Trump’s apparent indifference to Friday’s explosive New York Times report. Neither Trump nor other administration officials have specifically denied the report, which has since been confirmed by several other news organizations.

On Sunday, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming joined in the criticism and said that if the information was genuine, the White House had to explain why Trump had not been told and why the administration had done nothing. in response.

At the core of the story is that US spy agencies concluded several months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret rewards for attacks on coalition troops. The matter was discussed in late March by the National Security Council, and European allies, including Britain, were also informed of the findings, according to the story. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the first word of the Russian plan came in January from military and intelligence officials in Afghanistan.

Reports reached the White House at an already problematic juncture. Multiple national polls show Biden is outpacing Trump, and the president and his team have struggled to craft a coherent message amid a series of bad news: an increase in US coronavirus cases now exceeding 2.5 millions, the resulting economic carnage, and the consequences of the massive racial discrimination – justice protests that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

On Sunday, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who helped direct the Trump campaign in 2016, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he “will lose” his reelection offer “if he doesn’t change course, both in terms of the substance of what he’s discussing and the way he’s approaching the American people. “

So far, the White House’s response to history has not been to present any response to Russia, but simply to insist that Trump had not been personally informed.

The office of Trump’s select director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, who has been in office for just a month, and was a controversial choice due to his lack of relevant experience and his avid partisanship as a Texas congressman, issued a statement late. He said Saturday that neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence were “never informed of any intelligence” described in the story.

But intelligence experts suggested that the White House defense appeared to be largely semantic, perhaps supported by material included in the written daily intelligence report that the president is known to avoid reading, rather than presenting himself orally.

David Priess, a former CIA analyst and intelligence expert, described various scenarios under which Trump and those around him might have been aware of the assessment. The surprising thing, he said in a Twitter post, was that the White House had not addressed the substance of the report, nor had it publicly expressed its determination to get to the bottom of it.

“Why hasn’t the commander in chief responded to such a serious development?” I ask.

Trump, who spent Sunday at his golf property in Virginia, referred in a couple of tweets to the “so-called attacks on our troops,” attacked the report as “Fake News” and wrote that “no one informed me or told me.” .

But while avoiding a direct denial of the report’s underlying claims, the president seemed to suggest that the information might not bother him much, even if it was true.

“There have not been many attacks on us,” he wrote.

At least nine American soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year, and 20 last year, of the almost 2,400 deaths of the American military in the course of the long conflict.

Biden hit Trump on the matter on Saturday, saying that if the report was true, Trump’s inaction represented “a betrayal of the most sacred duty we have as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them in distress.”

The former vice president described the episode as a continuation of “Trump’s embarrassing campaign of deference and degradation” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden, whose campaign focuses on virtual appearances due to the coronavirus pandemic, made his comments at an online city hall.

Pelosi, interviewed Sunday in “This Week,” said Russia’s rewards report revived long-standing questions about Trump’s affinity for Putin, dating back to the US intelligence findings that Moscow interfered in his name in the 2016 presidential election.

On many occasions, Trump has struggled to publicly defer to the Russian leader, and in recent weeks, he has pushed to restore Russia to meetings of the leading industrial nations of the Group of Seven, from which he was excluded after his invasion. Crimea in 2014.

“This is as bad as it sounds, and yet the president will not confront the Russians in this regard,” Pelosi said of the rewards report, suggesting that the president may be behaving under some form of duress.

“I don’t know what the Russians have about the president: political, personal, financial or whatever,” said the San Francisco Democrat. Now he says it is fake news, why would he say that? Why wouldn’t you say, “Let’s go see it and see what this is?”

Cheney, writing on Twitter, said the White House needed to reveal “who knew and when?” on the intelligence assessment and detailing “what has been done in response to protect our forces and hold Putin to account.”

Former national security adviser John Bolton, who was kicked out of the White House last September, said in CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump’s “fundamental focus” was not on national security or the protection of American troops.

“So what is the presidential reaction?” Bolton asked, author of a scathing White House memory.

“That is, ‘It is not my responsibility. No one told me.'”

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