JULY 1, 2020
President Trump continued to insist Wednesday that reports that Russia was offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan were “fake news” as his national security adviser disclosed that options had been drawn up to present to Trump on how to respond if the allegations were corroborated.
National security adviser Robert C. O’Brien reiterated during a television interview on Thursday that national security officials decided not to present Trump with unverified intelligence regarding Russia’s purported plans but indicated that they took the situation seriously enough to prepare options for the president.
“If this eventually becomes something that’s proven, or something that we believe, we need to have options for the president to deal with the Russians,” O’Brien said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “I can tell you this, if this information turned out to be true, and now we may never know, but if it turned out to be true, we had options ready to go, and the president was ready to take strong action, as he always is.”
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that White House officials were first informed in early 2019 of intelligence reports that Russia was offering the bounties to kill U.S. and coalition military personnel, but the information was deemed sketchy and in need of additional confirmation, according to people familiar with the matter.
Several discussions were held with members of the National Security Council staff on the reports, which had been flagged as potentially significant and came at a time of growing tensions between Russia and the United States.
In morning tweets, Trump continued to dismiss media reports on the episode, writing that “this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party.”
“The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale,” he said, taking issue in particular with reports that he had received written briefings on intelligence about the alleged bounties.
During the Fox News interview, O’Brien insisted that Trump was not briefed on the matter, calling that “another false story.”
“The president was not briefed because at the time of these allegations they were uncorroborated,” he said. “As a result, the president’s career CIA briefer decided not to brief him because it was unverified intelligence, and by the way, she’s an outstanding officer, and knowing all the facts I know, I certainly support her decision.”
O’Brien said leaks to the media about the episode have hampered U.S. intelligence officials from determining what actually happened.
“Sadly because of the leak, it may now become impossible ever to get to the bottom of this, to get to the truth of the matter, and that’s one of the very sad things,” he said. “We were working very hard on this matter. It might be impossible to get to the bottom of it because someone decided to leak to hurt the president rather than uphold their obligations to the American people.”
O’Brien also defended Trump against those who suggest that he is not eager to receive national security briefings, particularly those related to tensions with Russia.
“The president’s an avid consumer of intelligence, and we give to him everything he needs to know,” O’Brien said.
People familiar with the matter noted to The Post that information is sometimes withheld from Trump, who often reacts badly to reports that he thinks might undermine what he considers his good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Courtesy/Source: Washington Post