Republicans Want Answers From Trump's White House About New Russia Claims

Republican lawmakers are demanding answers over claims a Russian military intelligence branch offered bounties to Taliban-linked militias to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

They called on President Donald Trump and his administration to clarify the situation, and, if true, said Russia should be held accountable for its actions. Trump denied the allegation he was made aware of the bounty claims before they became public.

He said nobody briefed him, Vice President Mike Pence or White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on the "so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians," adding: "Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us."

The alleged Russian bounties and the president's knowledge of their existence were first reported by The New York Times and confirmed in reporting by other publications.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said in a statement neither Trump nor Pence "were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting."

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said neither were aware of the reported bounties.

The president, responding to a Twitter post from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) which questioned the situation, said: "Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP."

donald trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board in the East Room of the White House on June 26, 2020 in Washington, D.C. He has faced questions following reports a Russian intelligence branch placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Trump said it was possibly "another fabricated Russia Hoax" and said The New York Times wanted to "make Republicans look bad!!!"

Graham is one of several Republicans to query the reports. He called for the Trump Administration to inform Congress of their reliability.

"Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region," Graham tweeted.

"I expect the Trump Administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports."

Rep. French Hill (R-AR) said he was "deeply concerned" by the reports.

"Vladimir Putin has never been a friend to the United States. I am deeply concerned by the reports that Russia put bounties on American soldiers," he tweeted. "If this is true, Russia must be held accountable."

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) similarly called for accountability: "Russia must be held accountable if reports are true that a Russian intelligence unit offered militants bounties to kill American soldiers and other coalition forces. This cannot be allowed to go unanswered."

Liz Cheney (R-WY) listed several questions she wants the White House to answer in a post shared by other House Republicans.

Cheney wrote on Twitter: "If reporting about Russian bounties on US forces is true, the White House must explain: 1. Why weren't the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?"

These questions were shared by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), who wrote: "The American people have a right to know what is being done to protect our men and women in uniform. We need answers now."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) also shared Cheney's tweet, adding: "This is exactly right. We need answers."

Rep. John Katko (R-NY) said he hoped more information would become available.

"All threats made against members of our military must be taken seriously," Katko wrote on Facebook, alongside a link to The New York Times report.

"As a leader on the House Homeland Security Committee, I look forward to more information becoming public and am committed to ensuring the safety of our nation and those who protect it. We must always act to hold those who endanger our [servicemembers] accountable."

Democratic lawmakers took aim at Trump, accusing him of inaction against Russia following the allegations. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) branded Trump a failure.

Warren tweeted: "President Trump doing absolutely nothing while a Russian spy unit pays the Taliban to kill US soldiers is a profound betrayal of our troops. It's also the definition of a failed Commander-in-Chief."

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) called for a Committee on Armed Services hearing into the situation.

In a letter to Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Duckworth requested there be an open hearing with testimony from the secretary of defense, the CIA director, and the commander of the Resolute Support Mission and United States Forces-Afghanistan.

Sharing the letter to Inhofe, she wrote: "Members of the US Armed Forces, military families—and the American people—deserve answers & accountability for President Trump's outrageous failure of leadership & apparent betrayal of our troops."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for a congressional investigation into the reports, writing to chairs of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Gillibrand wrote: "I am deeply distressed that President Trump appears to have willfully failed to protest service members and failed them and their families. We do not have to follow in his footsteps."

Newsweek has contacted the White House and the lawmakers mentioned above for further comment.