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Trump responds to claims Russia paid Talban to kill US troops

President Donald Trump on Tuesday embraced a claim that an intelligence report indicating Russia offered bounties on U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan was ‘wishful thinking’ as the families of Marines who died in a car bomb attack demanded justice.

The president retweeted two tweets from Geraldo Rivera on the matter as the White House struggled to deal with the fallout from The New York Times’ explosive report on the bounties, trying to down play its significance and saying Trump was never briefed on it.

Rivera’s tweets attacked the reporting in the Times, which followed up its original story with a piece Monday night that said intelligence on the Russian bounties was included in Trump’s President’s Daily Brief document – a compilation of the latest intelligence information – citing two officials with knowledge of the matter. One of the officials said the item appeared in Trump’s brief in late February; the other cited Feb. 27, specifically.

President Donald Trump embraced a claim that an intelligence report indicating Russia offered bounties on U.S. service members was 'wishful thinking' - retweeting tweets from Geraldo Rivera on the matter

President Donald Trump embraced a claim that an intelligence report indicating Russia offered bounties on U.S. service members was 'wishful thinking' - retweeting tweets from Geraldo Rivera on the matter

President Donald Trump embraced a claim that an intelligence report indicating Russia offered bounties on U.S. service members was ‘wishful thinking’ – retweeting tweets from Geraldo Rivera on the matter

 ‘After enjoying big splash from sensational #RussianBounty expose, #NYT retreating to shore-admitting ‘the underlying intelligence was conflicting.’ In 3 years of @realDonaldTrump all NYT/Russia reporting has been based on ‘conflicting’ intelligence  – Also known as wishful thinking,’ was one of Rivera’s tweets that Trump touted.

‘Here’s #RussianBounty story in a nutshell: 1-US raid randomly discovers wad of cash in Afghan hut (How much? In a safe? Under a bed? In Capone’s vault?) 2-Clever intell op exclaims, ‘Say I think this cash came from Moscow!’ 3-During daily briefing @realDonaldTrump is told or not,’ was the other.

President Trump’s defense comes as the families of three Marines killed in a car bomb attack in April 2019 demanded justice. U.S. officials are looking at that April attack as one that could have been a result of Russian bounties.

Felicia Arculeo, whose son Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, died in the April 8, 2019, attack, told CNBC that she wants an investigation into how her son died and ‘that the parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible.’ 

Hendriks and the other two Marines, Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, were killed when a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield days before they were scheduled to return home from Afghanistan. 

Hendriks’ father told the Associated Press that even a rumor of Russian bounties should be immediately addressed.

‘If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia, and one ounce of blood was spilled when they knew this, I lost all respect for this administration and everything,’ Erik Hendriks said. 

These images provided by the U.S. Marine Corps show, from left, Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.  All three were killed on April 8, 2019, when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan

These images provided by the U.S. Marine Corps show, from left, Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.  All three were killed on April 8, 2019, when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan

These images provided by the U.S. Marine Corps show, from left, Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.  All three were killed on April 8, 2019, when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan

An Afghan military convoy drives past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base on April 9, 2019

An Afghan military convoy drives past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base on April 9, 2019

An Afghan military convoy drives past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base on April 9, 2019

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (left with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the right) said 'there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear'; Schiff and Hoyer were among the eight House Democrats briefed by the White House on Tuesday morning

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (left with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the right) said 'there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear'; Schiff and Hoyer were among the eight House Democrats briefed by the White House on Tuesday morning

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (left with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the right) said ‘there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear’; Schiff and Hoyer were among the eight House Democrats briefed by the White House on Tuesday morning

The White House continues to deny President Trump knew of the bounties even as reports emerged that top White House officials were aware in early 2019 of the classified intelligence reports on it.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton told colleagues he briefed President Trump on an intelligence assessment that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan in March 2019, much earlier than previously reported. 

The Times reported it was in the President’s Daily Brief, a document packet that Trump is known not to read carefully, instead preferring a verbal briefing on intelligence matters and foreign relations. Even during those he has been reported to have trouble focusing on the matters at hand and prefers to get his information from conservative news sources.

‘He was not personally briefed on the matter,’ White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Monday when asked about the written briefing. ‘That is all I can share with you today.’ 

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said ‘there may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear.’

Schiff made his comments after eight House Democrats received a briefing at the White House on Tuesday morning. 

‘You briefed the president in the manner in which he or she receives information. If the president doesn’t read the briefs, it makes it doesn’t doesn’t work to give him written product, and not tell him what’s in it,’ Schiff said.

‘So, I don’t want to comment on this particular case but I just say it’s not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has. If he doesn’t read, he doesn’t read. They should know that by now,’ he noted. 

On Sunday, the AP reported that current National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump. O’Brien denied ever discussing it. 

‘Over the past several days, the New York Times and other news outlets have reported on allegations regarding our troops in Afghanistan. While we do not normally discuss such matters, we constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the President as necessary,’ O’Brien said in a statement late Monday night.

President’s Daily Brief 

The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) is a daily a multi-source intelligence digest of high-level information and analysis on national security issues produced for the president and key cabinet members and advisers.

It has been presented in some form to the president since 1946, when President Harry Truman received the Daily Summary.

In 2014, the PDB transitioned from a print product to electronic delivery at the request of President Barack Obama.

Given the sensitive nature of the information, most PDBs – even those from many years past – remain classified. 

Source: Intelligence.gov 

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‘Because the allegations in recent press articles have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items. Nevertheless, the Administration, including the National Security Council staff, have been preparing should the situation warrant action,’ he noted.

His statement did not address reports that the information was included in the president’s daily briefing book.

Bolton told colleagues he had briefed the president on the matter allegedly unfolding in Afghanistan last year. Officials with knowledge of that briefing said it contained no ‘actionable intelligence’, meaning the intelligence community did not have enough information to form a strategic plan or response. 

However, the classified assessment of Russian bounties was the sole purpose of the meeting.   

Top officials in the White House say they were made aware of the bounty operation in a daily intelligence briefing in early 2019, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence. But it wasn’t considered particularly urgent, given that Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not a new occurrence. 

CIA Director Gina Haspel, who was appointed by Trump in 2018, released a statement Monday saying that in developing intelligence assessments ‘preliminary Force Protection information is shared with the national security community – and with US allies,’ meaning the assessment would have been shared with foreign governments.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton claims he briefed Donald Trump on an intelligence assessment that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan in March 2019, much earlier than previously reported. Bolton pictured July 2019

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton claims he briefed Donald Trump on an intelligence assessment that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan in March 2019, much earlier than previously reported. Bolton pictured July 2019

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton claims he briefed Donald Trump on an intelligence assessment that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan in March 2019, much earlier than previously reported. Bolton pictured July 2019

Trump and the White House have denied that he was ever made aware of the assessment and no action was taken to stop the bounty operation

Trump and the White House have denied that he was ever made aware of the assessment and no action was taken to stop the bounty operation

Trump and the White House have denied that he was ever made aware of the assessment and no action was taken to stop the bounty operation

But on Sunday the president denied that he was ever made aware of the assessment.

The White House doubled down on the matter with officials backing up the president’s words. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that President Trump was never briefed because the intelligence was not ‘verified’ and there was ‘dissent’ in the intelligence community over its accuracy. 

‘There was not a consensus among the intelligence community and in fact there were dissenting opinions and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified,’ she said at her press briefing. 

However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials. 

And she wouldn’t say if the president had been briefed since.

‘I have no further details on the president’s private correspondence,’ she responded. 

Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019.

But he suggested on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that Trump was claiming ignorance to Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of response.  

‘He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,’ Bolton said.

A description of the assessment that a Russian unit was carrying out the bounties plot was also disseminated on May 4 in an article in the CIA’s World Intelligence Review, a classified document known as The Wire, two officials said. 

CIA Director Haspel said Monday: ‘When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation. In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community – and with US allies – as a part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas.’ 

She warned that leaked intel could harm the assessment of the Russia bounty program saying: ‘Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.

‘CIA will continue to pursue every lead; analyze the information we collect with critical, objective eyes; and brief reliable intelligence to protect US forces deployed around the world.’ 

CIA Director Gina Haspel released a statement Monday saying that in developing intelligence assessments 'preliminary Force Protection information is shared with the national security community - and with US allies,' meaning the assessment could have been credible enough to warn the president about

CIA Director Gina Haspel released a statement Monday saying that in developing intelligence assessments 'preliminary Force Protection information is shared with the national security community - and with US allies,' meaning the assessment could have been credible enough to warn the president about

CIA Director Gina Haspel released a statement Monday saying that in developing intelligence assessments ‘preliminary Force Protection information is shared with the national security community – and with US allies,’ meaning the assessment could have been credible enough to warn the president about

The director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, who was tapped by Trump for the job, also shared a statement Monday saying an investigation into the intelligence assessment is ongoing

The director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, who was tapped by Trump for the job, also shared a statement Monday saying an investigation into the intelligence assessment is ongoing

The director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, who was tapped by Trump for the job, also shared a statement Monday saying an investigation into the intelligence assessment is ongoing

The director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, who was tapped by Trump for the job, also shared a statement Monday saying an investigation into the intelligence assessment is ongoing. 

‘US and coalition force protection is a critical priority for both the President and the intelligence Community. The selective leaking of any classified information disrupts the vital interagency work to collect, assess, and mitigate threats and places our forces at risk. It is also, simply put, a crime,’ he said. 

‘We are still investigating the alleged intelligence referenced in recent media reporting and we will brief the President and Congressional leaders at the appropriate time. 

‘This is the analytic process working the way it should. Unfortunately, unauthorized disclosures now jeopardize our ability to ever find out the full story with respect to these allegations,’ he added.

The administration’s earlier awareness of the Russian efforts raises additional questions about why Trump did not take any punitive action against Moscow for efforts that put the lives of Americans service members at risk.

Trump has sought throughout his time in office to improve relations with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, moving earlier this year to try to reinstate Russia as part of a group of world leaders it had been kicked out of.

The intelligence that surfaced in early 2019 indicated Russian operatives had become more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2012 during the Obama administration.

The National Security Council and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence did hold meetings regarding the intelligence. The Pentagon declined to comment and the NSC did not respond to questions about the meetings.

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, a full year earlier than has been previously reported. American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploy to fight Taliban fighters as part of Operation Mountain Thrust to a U.S. base near the village of Deh Afghan on June 22, 2006 in Afghanistan

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, a full year earlier than has been previously reported. American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploy to fight Taliban fighters as part of Operation Mountain Thrust to a U.S. base near the village of Deh Afghan on June 22, 2006 in Afghanistan

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, a full year earlier than has been previously reported. American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploy to fight Taliban fighters as part of Operation Mountain Thrust to a U.S. base near the village of Deh Afghan on June 22, 2006 in Afghanistan

Concerns about Russian bounties flared anew this year after members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known to the public as SEAL Team Six, raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500 thousand in U.S. dollars. 

The funds bolstered the suspicions of the American intelligence community that the Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and other linked associations.

The officials told the AP that career government officials developed potential options for the White House to respond to the Russian aggression in Afghanistan, which was first reported by The New York Times. However, the Trump administration has yet to authorize any action.

The intelligence in 2019 and 2020 surrounding Russian bounties was derived in part from debriefings of captured Taliban militants. Officials with knowledge of the matter told the AP that Taliban operatives from opposite ends of the country and from separate tribes offered similar accounts.

The officials would not name the specific groups or give specific locations in Afghanistan or time frames for when they were detained.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Russian intelligence officers had offered payments to the Taliban in exchange for targeting US and coalition forces.

The US is investigating whether any Americans died as a result of the alleged Russian bounties.

Officials said the intelligence community has been investigating the April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three US Marines and wounded three other US service members and an Afghan contractor after a car was rigged with explosives and detonated near their armored vehicles, to see if it could be potentially linked to the Russian bounties. The site of the car bomb above on April 9, 2019

Officials said the intelligence community has been investigating the April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three US Marines and wounded three other US service members and an Afghan contractor after a car was rigged with explosives and detonated near their armored vehicles, to see if it could be potentially linked to the Russian bounties. The site of the car bomb above on April 9, 2019

Officials said the intelligence community has been investigating the April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three US Marines and wounded three other US service members and an Afghan contractor after a car was rigged with explosives and detonated near their armored vehicles, to see if it could be potentially linked to the Russian bounties. The site of the car bomb above on April 9, 2019

Officials are focused in particular on an April 2019 attack on an American convoy. Three US Marines were killed after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

The Marines exchanged gunfire with the vehicle at some point; however, it´s not known if the gunfire occurred before or after the car exploded.

Abdul Raqib Kohistani, the Bagram district police chief, said at the time that at least five Afghan civilians were wounded after the attack on the convoy, according to previous reporting by the AP. It is not known if the civilians were injured by the car bomb or the gunfire from US Marines.

Cpl. Robert Hendriks died in an April 2019 attack at Bagram Air Field days before he was due to return home

Cpl. Robert Hendriks died in an April 2019 attack at Bagram Air Field days before he was due to return home

Cpl. Robert Hendriks died in an April 2019 attack at Bagram Air Field days before he was due to return home 

The Defense Department identified Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, from Newark, Delaware; Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, from York, Pennsylvania; and Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, from Locust Valley, New York, as the Marines killed in April 2019. The three Marines were all infantrymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve infantry unit headquartered out of Garden City, New York.

Marine Major Roger Hollenbeck said at the time that the reserve unit was a part of the Georgia Deployment Program-Resolute Support Mission, a reoccurring, six-month rotation between U.S. Marines and Georgian Armed Forces. The unit first deployed to Afghanistan in October 2018.

Three other service members and an Afghan contractor were also wounded in the attack. As of April 2019, the attack was under a separate investigation, unrelated to the Russian bounties, to determine how it unfolded.

The officials who spoke to the AP also said they were looking closely at insider attacks – sometimes called ‘green-on-blue’ incidents – from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.

Mother of Marine, 25, who was killed in Afghanistan urges investigation into intelligence claim that Russians paid Taliban to kill American soldiers including her son 

Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, died in Afghanistan in April 2019 in a car bomb attack days before he was due to return home to the US.

His mother is now calling for an investigation into his death, following revelations that Russia may have been paying Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers.

Felicia Arculeo has said she wants to see thorough investigation launched after the New York Times reported that American intelligence agencies believe a Russian intelligence unit was offering cash to Islamist fighters if they took the lives of U.S. servicemen.  

Cpl. Robert Hendricks is pictured hugging his mother Felicia Arculeo

Cpl. Robert Hendricks is pictured hugging his mother Felicia Arculeo

Cpl. Robert Hendricks is pictured hugging his mother Felicia Arculeo

Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, (left) and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, (right) were  also killed in the bomb attack in April 2019

Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, (left) and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, (right) were  also killed in the bomb attack in April 2019

Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, (left) and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, (right) were  also killed in the bomb attack in April 2019

Felicia Arculeo, the mother of a Marine killed last year in Afghanistan, is pictured

Felicia Arculeo, the mother of a Marine killed last year in Afghanistan, is pictured

Felicia Arculeo, the mother of a Marine killed last year in Afghanistan, is pictured

‘The parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible,’ Arculeo said to CNBC.  

‘I just happened to randomly see’ the news about the report. I got pretty upset,’ she said.

Hendriks, 25, along with two other Marines, Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, and 43-year-old Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman who were with the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division were killed by a car bomb at Bagram Air Field.

The Taliban had originally claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, but now there is a suggestion that perhaps those responsible were being paid by a foreign government for their murders. 

So far Arcuelo from Long Island, New York says she has not been spoken to by U.S. intelligence or military officials since the news broke.  

On Sunday, the president tweeted: ‘Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or to Vice President Mike Pence.’   

Arculeo has said that despite not having verification from the White House, the claim should still be looked into. 

‘Absolutely, that should be investigated,’ she said. ‘[But] at the end of the day, my son is still gone. He’s still not coming home.’  

Source: Daily Mail

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