- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2020

The White House said Monday there is no consensus among U.S. intelligence officials about reports that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill American soldiers, while attacking The New York Times for its “failed Russia reporting.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were not told about the bounty allegation because it hasn’t been verified.

“The U.S. receives thousands of reports a day on intelligence,” Ms. McEnany said during a press briefing. “There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations. There were dissenting opinions within the intelligence community.”

She said the matter ordinarily “would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.” The administration reached a peace deal with the Taliban in February to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan within 14 months if all conditions are met.

The New York Times reported on Friday that Mr. Trump had been briefed about the alleged bounties offered by Russia, which the White House refuted.

Ms. McEnany said The New York Times “should step back and ask themselves why they’ve been so wrong, so often” before listing several stories about Russian collusion she said were incorrect.

But the White House did brief selected lawmakers about the bounty intelligence on Monday in the Situation Room. Those Republican lawmakers included Reps. Michael McCaul and Mac Thornberry of Texas, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Administration officials who participated in the classified briefing included Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, White House national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. McCaul explained that the officials informed the lawmakers that “there is an ongoing review to determine the accuracy of these reports, and we believe it is important to let this review take place before any retaliatory actions are taken.”

“There are already those who are politicizing this issue, however we cannot let politics overshadow a truth that Republicans and Democrats alike can agree on: the Putin regime cannot be trusted,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement. “If the intelligence review process verifies the reports, we strongly encourage the administration to take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable.”

Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said officials will “likely never know the truth” because The New York Times “used unconfirmed intel in an ONGOING investigation into targeted killing of American soldiers in order to smear the President.”

“The blood is on their hands,” he tweeted after attending the classified briefing. “Now it’s impossible to finish the investigation.”

Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Monday he will work with Mr. Trump “on a strong response” to Russia if the allegations are true.

“We’ve known for a long time that Putin is a thug and a murderer,” the Oklahoma Republican tweeted. “My number-one priority is the safety of our troops.”

Sen. Todd Young, Indiana Republican, joined several Democrats on Monday in calling for hearings on the matter. Mr. Young told the president in a letter he’s “alarmed” that Mr. Trump wasn’t briefed on “this critical threat to our service members and to our national security.”

“I believe that you would have wanted to know this critical intelligence information and be provided with the resources necessary to save the lives of our men and women in uniform,” Mr. Young wrote. “I stand ready to hold any members of your administration accountable for their gross negligence in performing such a grave responsibility.”

He said while the administration has taken steps to confront Russia on a variety of challenges, “an even stronger response will be required” if the bounty reports are confirmed.

“Depending on where the facts lead, there should be no invitation for the Russian Federation to rejoin the G-7 and you should impose sanctions directly on both President Putin and Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov,” he said.

The president has proposed that the Group of Seven nations readmit Russia, which was expelled after its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Ms. McEnany used the bounty issue to criticize The New York Times for its “failed” reporting about the Russia “hoax” over the past four years, and called on The Times and The Washington Post to “hand back their Pulitzers” awarded for their coverage of the Russia collusion story.

She then listed articles about alleged Russian collusion with the 2016 Trump campaign that were found to be wrong.

“The New York Times falsely claimed [former Trump campaign manager] Paul Manafort asked for polling data to be passed along to [Russian oligarch] Oleg Deripaska before having to issue a correction,” she said. “In June of 2017, The New York Times falsely wrote all 17 intel agencies had agreed on Russian interference, before having to issue a correction that it was only four agencies.”

She also said The Times in February 2017 “published a story claiming Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence, which even [former FBI Director] James Comey said was almost entirely wrong.”

And she said The New York Times “published a column in March of 2019 by a former Times executive editor that asserted the Trump campaign and Russia had an ‘overarching deal’ — the ‘quid’ of help in the campaign against Hillary [Clinton] for the ‘quo’ of a new pro-Russian foreign policy. That’s what we call the Russia hoax, which was investigated for three years with taxpayer dollars before ultimately giving an exoneration in the Mueller report.”

“It is inexcusable, the failed Russia reporting of The New York Times,” she said.

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