- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2020

Top congressional leaders on Thursday received a classified briefing from intelligence officials on reports that Russia had offered bounties on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The so-called “Gang of Eight,” which includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican; Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, New York Democrat; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat;  and the top Republicans and Democrats of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, were briefed by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, among other intelligence officials.

Following the closed-door briefing, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer, who have called for briefings on the matter for the full Congress, said that any reports of threats on American troops “must be pursued relentlessly.”

“These reports are coming to light in the context of the President being soft on Vladimir Putin when it comes to NATO, the G7, Crimea, Ukraine and the ongoing undermining of the integrity of our elections,” they said in a statement.

The New York Times reported late last week that U.S. intelligence concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence agents had offered the bounties to militants linked to the Taliban. The paper said President Trump was briefed on the matter, and that the National Security Council held a meeting about it in late March.

Mr. Trump has maintained that he was not previously briefed on the reports.

“Our Armed Forces would be better served if President Trump spent more time reading his daily briefing and less time planning military parades and defending relics of the Confederacy,” the lawmakers wrote.

The White House has stepped up its rebuke of the reports in recent days, as Mr. Trump said Wednesday the story is a “hoax.” His top national security adviser, however, has said that the administration prepared options for a response to Moscow if the reports were verified.

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