It was “totally outrageous” for Donald Trump not to respond to reports that the same Russian intelligence cells that attacked the 2016 US election also offered bounties on US soldiers for Taliban fighters, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score,” Ms Pelosi said on Sunday in an interview with ABC News.
“This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute he heard of this the president would want to know more instead of denying anything,” Ms Pelosi said.
“Now he says it’s fake news. Why would he say that? Why wouldn’t he say, ‘Let’s look into it’?” the speaker said.
The White House has denied reports that the president ignored a warning from US intelligence that the Russian military had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops and other coalition forces.
The New York Times reported the claim on Friday, triggering a storm of accusations that the president had failed to protect US and allied troops, including those from Britain.
Citing officials briefed on the matter, the newspaper said the US determined months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year.
The White House has not disputed that US troops were being attacked, however.
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, national security advisor and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” Ms McEnany said.
“This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” she said.
Twenty-three US troops died in Afghanistan in 2019, though officials do not know whether Russian bounties led to any of those deaths.
Ms Pelosi said congressional leaders did not know about the Russian bounties on US troops but that they would be probing whether the president was briefed on the matter and what his response was.
“Something is very wrong here. But this must have an answer,” the speaker said.
Mr Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that, if the report about Russian bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan is true, it is “one of the most serious matters that have arisen in the Trump administration.”
Mr Bolton has skewered his former boss in his best-selling book, The Room Where It Happened, as an incompetent dupe without any central guiding national security strategy beyond what he thinks will help him get re-elected.
The former national security adviser has said Mr Trump was not up to the challenge of dealing with the US’ traditional adversaries such as North Korea, China, or Russia because he was blinded by his pursuit of re-election.
Mr Bolton plans to write in a conservative on his 2020 presidential election ballot this year, he has said. He told the Washington Post recently that he would be comfortable with Vice President Mike Pence commanding the White House.