Former national security advisor John Bolton reportedly told administration officials that he personally briefed President Donald Trump on the alleged bounties Russia paid to Taliban-backed fighters to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported Monday evening.
The new information suggests senior White House officials were aware of the alleged bounties a year earlier than previously reported by the AP, the New York Times, and other outlets. Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and current national security advisor Robert O’Brien have all denied the reports.
McEnany said that though low level intelligence officials were monitoring the information, the intelligence community had yet to form a consensus on the information’s veracity and therefore had not yet specifically briefed the president on their findings.
“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, NSA, national security adviser and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” she told reporters at Monday’s press briefing. “There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations, and, in effect, they are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regards to the veracity of what’s being reported, and the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.” (RELATED: ‘Blood Is On Their Hands’: GOP Lawmaker Blasts NYT After Briefing On Russia-Taliban Bounty Program)
Later that evening, O’Brien released a lengthy statement.
“Over the past several days, the New York Times and other news outlets have reported on allegations regarding our troops in Afghanistan. While we do not normally discuss such matters, we constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the President as necessary,” he wrote. “Because the allegations in recent press articles have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items. Nevertheless, the Administration, including the National Security Council staff, have been preparing should the situation warrant action.”
He went on to call apparent leaks to the press, on this specific topic and others, “a betrayal.”
“To those government officials who betray the trust of the people of the United States by leaking classified information, your actions endanger our national security. No matter the motivation, there is never a justification for such conduct,” O’Brien continued. “Let me be clear that there is nothing more important to President Trump than America’s security and the safety of our men and women in uniform. He has demonstrated this commitment time and again.”
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Gina Haspel, who rarely comments publicly on intelligence matters, also released a statement Monday night condemning the reports for allegedly disrupting the intelligence community’s ability to investigate the actual veracity of the bounties themselves.
Just in: New statement from CIA Director Gina Haspel pic.twitter.com/e3JQ1EcH7N
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) June 30, 2020
Republican members of Congress briefed Monday by the White House issued similar critiques of the media.
Republican Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015 with the U.S. Navy reserves, said following the brief that “we’ll likely never know the truth … Because the @nytimes 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.”
Americans don’t buy the phony Russia-Trump-Collusion narrative.
THEY SEE President Trump’s rock solid record in support of our troops, our veterans & American exceptionalism. THEY SEE the media walk back claims of a Trump-Russia scandal over & over. So tired. Change it up!
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) June 29, 2020