The bombshell story that broke over the weekend raises new questions about the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with the cold, calculating and brutal Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials reached the conclusion that Russia had offered bounties to Taliban militants in Afghanistan to kill American or United Kingdom troops. The bounties were offered last year as the United States and Taliban leaders were in peace talks.
Other news media independently confirmed the Times account, with The Washington Post reporting that intelligence officials believed the bounties resulted in the deaths of multiple U.S. troops.
Offering another country bounties to kill American soldiers is a frightening new tactic that requires powerful retaliatory actions against Russia.
But President Donald Trump during the weekend claimed ignorance, saying he was never told of the intelligence.
But on Sunday, The New York Times reported that intelligence officers and special operations forces in Afghanistan informed superiors in January about the payoffs and that their reports were briefed to “the highest levels of the White House.” One official stated that the information was included in the president’s daily security brief.
Importantly, while backing the president’s denials of knowledge, White House spokespeople did not deny the veracity of the intelligence about the bounties. So if the intelligence was accepted by administration officials, it is disingenuous to believe Trump would not have been briefed on such a major finding.
Given Trump’s history of cuddling up to Putin, it is clear Congress must use its powers to learn who knew what and when.
Trump’s relationship with Putin has been troubling and shrouded in secrecy since Trump first took office. He took the unusual step of meeting in private with Putin and then refusing to discuss what was talked about and even confiscating the interpreter’s notes of the meeting.
Trump made the cringeworthy announcement that he believed Putin instead of U.S. intelligence about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Fortunately members of both parties in Congress realize the seriousness of the bounties issue and are calling for a full explanation from the White House.
Congress, particularly Republicans who have Trump’s ear, need to push for retaliatory responses, albeit a delayed one. Those responses could include a wide range of economic embargoes and international pressure on Russia.
Giving Putin another pass is not an option.