President Donald Trump said in a Wednesday interview with Axios that he did not bring up in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin reports that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. and coalition forces.
Trump spoke July 23 with Putin, but has since deflected when asked specifically what the two discussed. He has now confirmed to Axios he did not bring up the issue. Many U.S. politicians heavily criticized Russia when the intelligence community reported the bounties. Trump, however, remains skeptical.
“That was a phone call to discuss other things,” he said. “And, frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.”
NEW: President Trump tells @jonathanvswan on #AxiosOnHBO that he didn’t raise the issue of alleged bounties on U.S. troops during his call with Vladimir Putin last week: “That was a phone call to discuss other things.” pic.twitter.com/daISvMFUE1
— Axios (@axios) July 29, 2020
Trump went on to say the report – which was reportedly included in his daily briefing in February – had never reached his desk. He has also reportedly spoken with Putin eight times since receiving the initial briefing.
Initial press reports about the alleged bounty program suggested the intelligence was far more definitive, but it now seems the intelligence community did not reach full confirmation. (RELATED: With Follow-Up Report, NYT Subtly Undercuts Russia-Taliban Bounty Story)
At least one top U.S. military official has expressed skepticism over whether the alleged bounties had any tangible effect on the Taliban’s actions.
“I found it very worrisome, I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., one of the highest-ranking U.S. generals overseeing operations in the Middle East, said July 8. “You see a lot of indicators, many of them are troubling many of them you act on. But, but in this case there just there wasn’t enough there. I sent the intelligence guys back to continue to dig on it, and I believe they’re continuing to dig right now, but I just didn’t see enough there to tell me that the circuit was closed in that regard.”
Trump said he spoke to Putin instead about the issue of nuclear proliferation, which he argues is a more important issue than global warming.