Electronic data intercepted by U.S. intelligence reportedly indicate a bank account linked to the Russian military transfer large amounts of cash to an account controlled by the Taliban as the White House continued to deny President Trump ever was briefed on the issue.
The New York Times reported, however, the issue was part of a written briefing in February and the reports have raised fresh questions about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Times reported Tuesday the intercepted data bolstered intelligence gleaned from interrogations about the bounties, undercutting arguments intelligence officials were not confident enough about the information to bring it to the president.
Afghan officials said several businessmen who may have acted as go-betweens for the GRU and Taliban transactions have been arrested in the past six months. Some $500,000 was seized in the home of one of the suspects, a provincial official told the Times.
The Times quoted three Trump administration sources as confirming the intelligence assessment.
President Trump tweeted no one briefed him about the alleged bounties. He said intelligence officials did not find it credible and called the report “another fabricated Russian hoax.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said last week neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence was briefed.
“The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate,” the statement said. Ratcliffe was scheduled to meet privately with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday.
However, former national security adviser John Bolton told colleagues at the time he would brief the president.
A White House briefing for House Republicans Monday centered on the alleged bounty operation and information discounting it, the Times said. Democrats and Senate Republicans were briefed Tuesday.
“I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn’t come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russia is putting bounties on American troops and that he will do everything in his power to make sure that we protect American troops,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said after the briefing.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters: “Based on what we heard today, it was information that a) the president should have known about and b) based on what we were told today, he did.”
Both the Russian Foreign Ministry and Taliban have denied any bounty program.
White House Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday condemned the New York Times stories, saying the newspaper was not the place to discuss classified intelligence, and the discord the story prompted serves Russia’s interests. She also insisted he reads written intelligence assessments and also consumes intelligence verbally.