WASHINGTON (AP) — President Trump on Tuesday came under growing pressure to respond to allegations that Russia offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, with Democrats demanding answers and accusing Trump of bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the risk of U.S. soldiers’ lives.
Frustrated House Democrats returning from a briefing at the White House said they learned nothing new about American intelligence assessments that suggested Russia was making overtures to militants as the U.S. and the Taliban held talks to end the conflict in Afghanistan. Senate Republicans who attended a separate briefing largely defended the president, arguing along with the White House that the intelligence was unverified.
The intelligence assessments were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that Trump had been briefed on the intelligence, a day after saying he hadn’t because it had not been verified. McEnany added that there were still reservations within the intelligence community on the veracity of the allegations.
“Make no mistake. This president will always protect American troops,” she said.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a small group of House Democrats met with White House officials Tuesday. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of the attendees, said it was “inexplicable” why Trump won’t say publicly that he is working to get to the bottom of the issue and why he won’t call out Putin.
“Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our nation ill,” Schiff said.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., a former Navy helicopter pilot and Russia policy officer, said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows briefed the group and that Democrats told the briefers that Trump should make a statement.
“These are very concerning allegations and if they’re true, Russia is going to face repercussions,” Sherrill said.
A group of Senate Republicans briefed in the White House Situation Room on Tuesday appeared mostly satisfied with the answers they received. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, said he was “convinced” Trump hadn’t known about the intelligence.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Trump “can’t be made aware of every piece of unverified intelligence.”