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President Trump tweeted Sunday night that officials didn't brief him on alleged intelligence that a Russian military spy unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan because "they did not find this info credible."
Why it matters: Kremlin involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the death of American troops would mark a massive escalation in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Trump has already faced intense criticism over reports that he knew about the intelligence and took no action.
- White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement on Saturday denying the New York Times report that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed, but noted that her statement "does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence."
- Trump tweeted earlier on Sunday that "everybody is denying it" and that "there have not been many attacks on us," adding that neither he, Pence nor chief of staff Mark Meadows had been briefed on the report.
- 22 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2019, according to Stars and Stripes.
The backdrop: The Times reported Friday that Trump was briefed on the finding and that the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March. The report was confirmed by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and CNN.
- The Times reported that despite knowing about the bounties, Trump floated expanding the upcoming G7 summit meeting in September in the U.S. to include Russia.
- Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke in May about his plans to expand the G7 meeting to include Russia. The U.K. and Canada vehemently opposed the move.
- Russia was disinvited from attending the annual meeting of the eight largest advanced economies in the world in 2014 for illegally annexing Crimea from Ukraine.
What he's saying: On Sunday night, Trump retweeted a Twitter post by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) saying it's "[i]mperative Congress get to the bottom" of the reports. Trump added the comment: "Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!"
- Trump tweeted earlier, "Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.
"Nobody's been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine - Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their 'source'?"— Trump's tweet
Worth noting: Trump's tweet about "so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians" is not an accurate characterization of the Times story, which reported on intelligence about Russians paying bounties to Taliban-linked militants.
Joe Biden slammed Trump over the allegations at a virtual town hall on Saturday, saying that the report — if true — marks a “truly shocking revelation” about Trump's failure to protect troops in Afghanistan.
- “The truly shocking revelation that if the Times report is true, and I emphasize that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months, according to the Times, and done worse than nothing," Biden said, according to AP.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the report an "unsophisticated plant" that "clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense."
A spokesperson for the Taliban also denied any involvement with foreign intelligence, according to the Times.
- "These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” the spokesperson said. “That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them."
Editor's note: This article has been updated with Trump's later comments.