By: Leo Shane
U.S. troops wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan, in November 2017. News reports allege that top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans.
Top congressional leaders pushed back on White House assertions that President Donald Trump was completely unaware of intelligence reports suggesting Russian officials offered financial incentives to Afghanistan insurgents to kill U.S. troops deployed to the region, saying that evidence shows the information was made available to the commander in chief.
Following a White House briefing for a small group of defense leaders on the issue early Tuesday morning, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that allegations that Russians paid bounties for the deaths of American service members are full of “conflicting intelligence” and “conflicting opinions,” putting its veracity in doubt.
“What I can say is that there’s certainly evidence of Russian involvement in Afghanistan,” he told reporters during a press event later in the day. “And I think we should do more to pursue that, and do more to hold the Russians accountable for their activity.”
But Smith dismissed public assertions by the president and his supporters that the information was too low-level or unresolved to rise to the highest levels of the White House.
“What we heard today, it was information that the president should have known about. And based on what we were told today, it seems to me like he did know about it,” he said. “It’d be hard for me to imagine that he wasn’t at least aware of the allegation.”
Since last Friday, when the New York Times reported that White House officials have known since March about allegations of the Russian bounties, administration officials and Trump himself have denied that the president had any exposure to the information.
White House press secretary Kayleigh Mcenany on Monday said there was “no consensus among the intelligence community” on the allegations and such information “would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.”