By JOHN PARKINSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — (WASHINGTON) — CIA Director Gina Haspel led a slate of intelligence officials to the U.S. Capitol Thursday to brief a select group of lawmakers on reports Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
While the White House claims intelligence about the bounty reports was not fully verified by the U.S., a military official confirmed to ABC News on Sunday that Russian intelligence officers offered to pay Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan over the past year, amid peace talks to end the 18-year war there.
President Donald Trump has continued to call news reports about the bounties a “hoax.”
U.S. intelligence agencies linked the effort to a Russian intelligence unit suspected of covert action and assassination attempts in Europe, according to The New York Times, which first reported the intelligence findings said to have been presented to President Donald Trump in March.
The president and vice president have both denied that they were briefed on the matter.
“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020
Last year, 23 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, but whether any were targeted by Taliban fighters paid by Russian operatives isn’t known, the military official told ABC News. The official didn’t know whether Trump was briefed but said other senior U.S. officials learned of the Russian operation “months ago.”
Members of the so-called “Gang of Eight” were scheduled to be at Thursday’s briefing. The exclusive group is comprised of the legislative branch’s highest ranking members and top intelligence leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and General Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, were expected to join Haspel for the briefing, according to a source familiar with plan.
Several lawmakers from both parties attended briefings earlier this week at the White House, although Pelosi and Schumer have continued to press the administration to conduct briefings for the entire congressional membership.
Democrats characterized the White House briefing Tuesday as inadequate, calling on the administration to provide “direct evidence and discussion from intelligence community into how credible they assess the information.” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the intelligence a “red flag” and said the American people must understand whether the United States’ relationship with Russia is “compromised by the relationship between the president and Mr. Putin.”
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