House leaders are demanding an emergency briefing on reports of Russian officials offering bounties to US troops in Afghanistan, saying the president should have known or should have been made aware of the serious allegations.
Democrats and Republicans say a briefing should take place as soon as possible – starting this afternoon, if White House officials can hastily organize such an event – to determine the credibility of the threat and dangers faced by US military personnel.
“When you deal with the lives of our military, especially these allegations, then it’s incredibly serious,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We in Congress have to see the news and judge for ourselves. It will not be acceptable to be late.
Committee members requested the briefing over the weekend. On Monday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Issued her own request that all House members be provided with information on the controversy.
“The administration’s worrying silence and inaction is endangering the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” she wrote in a letter to the White House. “The president’s refusal to stand up to the Russians is also putting lives at risk in the region, as the Afghan government and the United States engage in critical peace talks with the Taliban.”
Last week, The New York Times reported that US intelligence officials found evidence that Russian officials offered financial incentives to Taliban-linked militants to target and kill US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The newspaper also noted that evidence was presented to senior administration officials in late March and that President Donald Trump was briefed on the issue but offered no response.
Trump took to social media on Sunday to deny being made aware of such a threat to US troops, writing that intelligence officials “have reported to me that they don’t find this information credible and don’t get it to me. so have not reported or (Vice President Mike Pence). Perhaps another fabricated Russian hoax.
But lawmakers said the dismissal was not enough given the gravity of the charges.
“Those who serve our country in a combat zone are willingly putting themselves in danger. We have to do everything we can to support them, ”House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., Said in a statement Monday morning.
“We have to find out exactly what was known, and when it was known to hold officials of the appropriate administration and the Russian government to account.”
Thornberry said he had not seen any information about the bounty claims and was unsure whether they posed a credible threat.
“But anything that has a hint of credibility that would endanger our soldiers or put a price on their lives should have been immediately informed by the commander-in-chief,” he told reporters on Monday. “It may be appropriate for the people who informed the president to be removed if they have not informed the president about it. “
Thornberry noted that Russia had “attempted to cause harm” to US forces in Afghanistan for a number of years, but called the new allegations “a different level” and “serious.”
Trump has been criticized by Democrats across his administration for not dealing with the Russian threat more aggressively. Over the weekend, Trump pushed back on the notion, tweeting that “no one has been harder on Russia than the Trump administration” and criticizing the New York Times, former Vice President Joe Biden and others for their past actions.
White House officials did not immediately respond to calls for a Congressional briefing.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.