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White House denies it was briefed about Afghan militant bounties

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied a Friday report from the New York Times that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMiami-Dade to close beaches for July Fourth weekend over coronavirus fears Oklahoma reporter tests positive for COVID-19 after attending at Trump’s Tulsa rally Trump slams Illinois governor, mayor over violence in Chicago, calls for ‘law and order’ MORE and Vice President Pence were briefed on American intelligence findings that Russian military operatives offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan, including US troops, amid peace talks.

Citing White House officials briefed on the matter, the Times reported that Trump and Pence were briefed on the intelligence findings and that the White House’s National Security Council held a meeting about the issue in late March.

McEnany denied any such briefing, saying in a statement Saturday that, “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”

She said that the U.S. “receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” adding that she is not denying the intelligence exists, but that the president was not briefed on it.

 “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” McEnany said. 

The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., has called the Times report “fake news” and baseless. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied the allegations to the Times, calling them a “baseless” effort to defame them.

The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Fox News released reports confirming the Times’s reporting.

The work from the newspaper resulted in a renewed push among lawmakers to sanction Russia.  The president has doubted American intelligence in the past, most notably during a 2018 press conference alongside Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussian intel unit offered bounties for killing coalition troops in Afghanistan: report Putin’s best-laid plans for lifetime rule The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Sen. Amy Klobuchar says Trump is afraid of losing if voters can mail in ballots; US COVID-19 cases reach highest levels since April MORE in Helsinki, Finland, where he publicly rejected U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Republican Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulGOP lawmakers voice support for Israeli plan to annex areas in West Bank Sunday shows preview: Bolton delivers bombshell while US tackles COVID-19, police brutality Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down Trump ads featuring symbol used by Nazis | Twitter, Facebook see new disinformation tactics | Republican calls out social media giants for not fighting Chinese propaganda MORE (Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Saturday that he “immediately reached out to the Administration” to confirm the allegations.

“If accurate, the Administration must take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable,” McCaul said. 

Democratic Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGOP lawmakers voice support for Israeli plan to annex areas in West Bank Lighthizer denies Bolton claim that Trump asked Xi for election help GOP’s Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE (N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic leaders press GOP to update Voting Rights Act The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – States are pausing reopening The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? MORE (R) to put his bill sanctioning Russia for a vote on the chamber floor.

“If Trump refuses to hold Putin accountable for funding terrorism against US troops in Afghanistan, then Congress must again step up,” Menendez tweeted on Saturday. 

“My Russia sanctions legislation passed out of SFRC in December and is waiting for a vote. McConnell must act this week.”

In February, the U.S. and Taliban signed a historic agreement in Dohar, Qatar, laying the groundwork for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and signaling a potential end to America’s longest-fought war.

CNN reported on Saturday that the administration was “close to finalizing” a decision to remove an additional 4,000 troops by the fall.

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