WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - American officials provided a written briefing in late February to President Donald Trump laying out their conclusion that a Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taleban-linked militants to kill US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, two officials familiar with the matter said.
The investigation into the suspected Russian covert operation to incentivise such killings has focused in part on an April 2019 car bombing that killed three Marines as one such potential attack, according to multiple officials familiar with the matter.
The new information emerged as the White House tried on Monday (June 29) to play down the intelligence assessment that Russia sought to encourage and reward killings - including reiterating a claim that Trump was never briefed about the matter and portraying the conclusion as disputed and dubious.
But that stance clashed with the disclosure by two officials that the intelligence was included months ago in Trump's President's Daily Brief document - a compilation of the government's latest secrets and best insights about foreign policy and national security that is prepared for him to read. One of the officials said the item appeared in Trump's brief in late February; the other cited Feb 27.
Moreover, a description of the intelligence assessment that the Russian unit had carried out the bounties plot was also seen as serious and solid enough to disseminate more broadly across the intelligence community in a May 4 article in the CIA's World Intelligence Review, a classified compendium, two officials said.
A National Security Council spokesman declined to comment on any connection between the Marines' deaths and the suspected Russian plot. The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, did not answer when pressed by reporters on Monday whether the intelligence was included in the written President's Daily Brief, and the security council spokesman pointed to her comments when asked later about the February written briefing.
Late on Monday, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, issued a warning that leaks about the matter were a crime.
The disclosures came amid a growing furore in Washington over the revelations in recent days that the Trump administration had known for months about the intelligence conclusion.