Donald Trump said he was not briefed on US intelligence related to Russian activity in Afghanistan because it was not thought “credible” by the secret services.
An explosive New York Times report, citing anonymous officials, said the US president had been told about findings that reportedly showed Russia had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.
Trump on Sunday denied having been briefed on the matter, as the report renewed questions about his reluctance to confront Russia over behavior that, if accurate, would represent a serious national security challenge.
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Mike Pence, Trump tweeted late Sunday.
The Fake News @ nytimes must reveal its “anonymous” source. Bet they can’t do it, this “person” probably does not even exist! https://t.co/pdg4AjybOG
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
According to the Times report, US intelligence had concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants to kill troops of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
The rewards were purportedly incentives to target American forces as Trump tries to withdraw soldiers from the conflict-torn country — one of the militants’ key demands — and end America’s longest war.
The newspaper said Trump was briefed on the US intelligence findings in March but has not decided how to respond.
Early Sunday morning, Trump had criticized the NYT report as “probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax.”
“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,” he tweeted. “Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us… Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration.”
John Ratcliffe, the new director of national intelligence, issued a statement late Saturday denying Trump or Pence had been briefed “on any intelligence alleged by The New York Times in its reporting.”
He also vouched for Saturday’s White House statement that denied the president had been briefed on the intelligence, but left open the possibility that it existed.
The Taliban have denied the report, reiterating they were committed to a February accord signed with Washington that paves the way for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan by next year.
The group, widely believed to have received years of support from Pakistani intelligence, also denied previous US accusations it was given arms by Russia.
Russia also denounced the report, with its embassy in Washington tweeting the “baseless and anonymous accusations” in the Times story had “already led to direct threats to the life of employees” at its embassies both there and in London.