Top Democrats ask US spy chiefs for briefing on Russia bounty reports

Top Democrats ask US spy chiefs for briefing on Russia bounty reports

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked for an inter-agency briefing for the House of Representatives on "President Trump's inexplicable behaviour towards Russia". (AFP/ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

WASHINGTON, DC: Top Democrats on Monday (Jun 29) called on the heads of the intelligence services to brief Congress on reports that Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militias to kill US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.

An explosive New York Times report, citing anonymous officials, said US President Donald Trump had been told about findings, which he has denied.

Both both Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, called for an urgent briefing on the reports.

"So there will be a briefing today," Kayleigh McEnany, the White House spokeswoman, said on the Fox News channel as concern around the reports grew.

"I think it will clear up a lot of the false reporting from 'The New York Times.' The president has made clear that he's never been briefed," she said.

The US news outlet Politico said the briefing would be held in the White House, but Pelosi's office said they had not received an invite.

In a letter released earlier and addressed to John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence, and CIA director Gina Haspel, Pelosi said, "The questions that arise are: was the president briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed."

The Times report, which has been confirmed by several American and British media outlets, said that US intelligence concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants to kill troops of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The rewards were purportedly incentives to target US forces as Trump tries to withdraw troops from the conflict-torn country - one of the militants' key demands - and end America's longest war.

Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, asked the intelligence chiefs to hold an interagency briefing for all members of the House of Representatives on the reports and "President Trump's inexplicable behavior towards Russia."

"Congress and the country need answers now," Pelosi said, adding that the briefing should also focus on "what options are available to hold Russia accountable."

Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, echoed her call.

"We need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when," he said.

Trump on Sunday denied having been briefed on the matter, as the explosive report renewed questions about his reluctance to confront Russia over behavior that, if accurate, would represent a serious national security challenge.

"Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP," he tweeted.

But even in Republican ranks, there were expressions of concern at the gravity of the allegations.

"If intelligence reports are verified that Russia or any other country is placing bounties on American troops, then they need to be treated as a state sponsor of terrorism," said Thom Tillis, a Republican on the Senate Armed Forces committee, on Twitter.

According to official Pentagon figures, no member of the US armed forces has been killed in Afghanistan since late March.

Source: AFP