Maya Alleruzzo / AP
Updated at 12:08 ET
Congressmen on both sides asked for answers Monday on bounties declared paid by Russian agents to Afghan insurgents for targeting American troops.
It seemed that the stories had taken even the highest legislators off guard and said they would soon want information from the Department of Defense and the intelligence community.
“I think it is absolutely essential to get the information and be able to judge its credibility,” said Texas representative Mac Thornberry, a member of the ranking of the House Armed Services Committee.
The story takes place on two parallel tracks in Washington, based on two key questions:
First, what really happened – and were American troops killed as a result of targeted action sponsored by Russia? And second: who knew what to say about the report on these allegations that emerged from the operational level in Afghanistan?
The White House tried to defend itself over the weekend in both cases, arguing that senior intelligence officials are not convinced of the reliability of the reports and that they never personally reached President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.
Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, who normally receives some of the most sensitive intelligence briefings as a member of the so-called gang of eight leaders in Congress, said she had also not been informed and sent a letter Monday asking for a briefing for all early members of the Room.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Requested a briefing for all Senate members.
Pelosi cited reports in The New York Times is The Washington Post This suggested that Trump has been aware of the bounty practice since the beginning of the year, but he and his deputies have not acted in response.
“The disturbing silence and inaction of the administration endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” he wrote.
Another important chamber legislator who asked for more information was Wyoming Rep. Liz CheneyThe leader number three of the Republicans in the chamber.
If the news about Russian gifts on U.S. forces is true, the White House must explain:
1. Why was the president or vice president not informed? Was the information in the PDB?
2. Who knew and when?
3. What has been done in response to the protection of our forces and Putin’s responsibility?
– Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) June 28, 2020
Safekeeping of information
Although Trump and director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe both stated that the president was not informed of the alleged reward practice, the director of national intelligence’s office did not examine whether aspects of the report had been included in the written briefings. sent to the president.
Past reports have suggested that Trump does not read many of his President’s Daily Briefs and prefers to listen to intelligence presenters in person – but even then, according to the recent book by former national security adviser John Bolton, Trump speaks more than to listen .
This added to questions about practices within the administration to convey information to the president that they may not like or wish to know.
For example, former officials said they learned not to talk to Trump about Russian interference in the U.S. election, of which Trump was critical and skeptical.
Another example included reports suggesting that Trump had received warnings about the coronavirus in his daily briefing but had not absorbed them; the White House detailed two specific briefings that Trump received on the virus earlier this year.
Former DNI acting Richard Grenell, who temporarily held the position before Ratcliffe’s confirmation, said on Twitter who was unaware of any account of the alleged reward practices.
I have never heard of it. And the way you keep politicizing intelligence is disgusting. You clearly don’t understand how raw information is verified. Partial information leaks to journalists from anonymous sources are dangerous because people like you manipulate them for political purposes. https://t.co/403X9AVGAC
– Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 27, 2020
Tension with intelligence services
The Who Knew What When game is old in Washington but is further complicated now by Trump’s long dislike with the intelligence community.
The president had problems with his helpers and consultants for their assessments of Russia and other issues such as the North Korean nuclear program.
Russian paramilitary or intelligence activities in Afghanistan with implications for American forces have been reported for years. A senior general said that Russian agents were helping the Taliban with weapons or supplies. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis also said he was concerned.
The complete picture has never emerged, but as the situation on the ground in Afghanistan has evolved, Washington’s practices have also ingested, elaborated and briefly intelligence in a capital that has undergone a series of tense episodes involving the espionage agencies.
It is not yet clear what practices the intelligence agencies may have adopted to process intelligence such as that related to the alleged reward program and whether they were continuing to evaluate it or different agencies may have reached different conclusions, as sometimes happens.
In other words, did the Defense Intelligence Agency or one of the military services find evidence of bounty practice in Afghanistan, but have Moscow’s intentions not yet been confirmed by the national interception agent or by the central intelligence that manages the human spy Agency?
The involvement of overseas allies could also complicate the processing and reporting. Britain’s Sky News reported that British military forces may also have been targeted in exchange for gifts paid by Russian forces and that members of Parliament want clarification from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
What was clear on Monday is that members of Congress want to quickly resolve these questions. Thornberry, of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the security of American and allied troops could depend on it.
“When it comes to the lives of our servicemembers, especially in Afghanistan – especially these allegations that there have been bouts causing Americans to die, then it is incredibly serious,” he said. “We in Congress need to see the information and sources to judge it, and it has to happen earlier this week. You know, it won’t be acceptable to delay.”
NPR congress correspondent Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.