Trump says report on Russian Afghanistan bounties isn't credible

The reports have drawn fresh attention to President Trump's efforts to build warmer relations with the Kremlin. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - President Donald Trump said in a tweet that US intelligence officials told him a report that the Russian government paid bounties for American and allied troops to be killed in Afghanistan wasn't credible, and therefore didn't 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," he tweeted on Sunday (June 28). "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."

The White House and Director of National Intelligence last Saturday denied the report, first published by the New York Times. Russia's foreign ministry also dismissed it.

The White House earlier had denied reports that Mr Trump was briefed by intelligence officials about - but had done nothing to respond to - the Russian bounties.

Senate Republican ally, Mr Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said it was "imperative Congress get to the bottom of" the allegations about Russia.

"I expect the Trump administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports," the South Carolina Republican said. Mr Graham accompanied Mr Trump on Sunday to the president's northern Virginia golf club.

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's resurgent across the South, as well as continuing nationwide protests against police brutality. News reports on the bounties, and 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 earlier on Sunday that the bounties are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several US service members in Afghanistan, citing intelligence gleaned from interrogations of captured militants.

The White House statement denying Mr Trump had been briefed on the bounties was issued last Saturday evening, shortly after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden slammed Mr Trump for his alleged inaction, which was first detailed in the New York Times report last Friday.

"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 wasn't commenting on the "merit of the alleged intelligence" on Russia's moves, major elements of which were also reported by the Washington Post.

Russian military intelligence units offered the bounties to Afghan militants to kill US and British troops, according to the New York Times, which said that Mr Trump had been briefed and the administration had spent months considering a response but had made no final decisions.

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