WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said that intelligence officials told him a report that the Russian government paid bounties for American and allied troops to be killed in Afghanistan was not credible, and therefore did not brief him about it.
"Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff #MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians," Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday.
"Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us."
In a separate tweet late on Sunday, Mr Trump added: "Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP."
Russian military intelligence units had offered the bounties to Afghan militants to kill US and British troops, according to a New York Times report last Friday, which also said that Mr Trump had been briefed on the matter and that the administration had spent months considering a response but made no final decisions.
The White House and director of national intelligence last Saturday denied the report.
Russia's foreign ministry also dismissed it as "fake news".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov yesterday said Mr Trump had never brought up the issue in his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, dismissing the allegations as "lies".
Mr Putin's envoy to Afghanistan, Mr Zamir Kabulov, said the intelligence assessments were part of the domestic political battle in the United States ahead of November's presidential elections.
"It's hard to explain otherwise the appearance of such stupidities," Mr Kabulov said yesterday.
Mr Trump's Senate Republican ally Lindsey Graham said it was "imperative Congress get to the bottom of" the allegations.
"I expect the Trump administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports," he said.
The alleged Russian bounties have swiftly emerged as yet another political crisis for a president already struggling to defend his response to the coronavirus outbreak that has seen a resurgence across the US south, as well as nationwide protests against police brutality.
News reports on the bounties, and about whether Mr Trump knew about them, have drawn fresh attention to the president's efforts to build warmer relations with the Kremlin.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the bounties were believed to have resulted in the deaths of several US service members in Afghanistan, citing intelligence gleaned from interrogations of captured militants.
"While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, national security adviser, and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice-president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
Ms McEnany said she was not commenting on the "merit of the alleged intelligence" on Russia's moves, major elements of which were also reported by the Washington Post.