President Donald Trump’s bizarre relationship with adversary Russia has taken another disturbing turn. U.S. intelligence, it was reported by the New York Times and confirmed by other major outlets over the weekend, learned early this year that Russia had put a bounty on the heads of American soldiers, paying Afghanis to kill them.
The president was said to have been briefed at some point, and by March the National Security Council had discussed the matter and developed potential responses. Trump apparently did nothing. His first response, confronted with the newspaper reports, was to claim he did not know of the intelligence reports, then to dismiss them as a possible “hoax” designed to make Republicans look bad. As Monday unfolded, the fallback became that the intelligence reports were “divided.”
It is simply not credible that the U.S. intelligence community, having learned such grave information, would not quickly relay it to the highest levels of government. Even if reports were conflicting, it would be deemed of the utmost importance for the president to be made aware. Congressional Republicans and Democrats are right to demand a briefing on what was known and when, and further to determine whether Trump knew or not.
To date, Trump has not said he will get to the bottom of such an active threat against U.S. troops. There has not been so much as a diplomatic complaint sent to Moscow.
Trump has always been puzzlingly deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin, even taking his word over intelligence reports in previous instances. While professing no knowledge of intelligence on Russian bounties on American heads, Trump has continued to woo the Russian leader. He recently invited Putin to the U.S. in September for the G-7 meeting of industrial nations. Russia was expelled in 2014 from what had been the G-8 over its forced annexation of Crimea. It has done little to redeem itself since then, interfering in U.S. elections in 2016 and now possibly paying to have Americans killed.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently told Reuters that Johnson opposed adding Russia to the G-7 because his government had “yet to see evidence of changed behavior which would justify readmittance.”
Trump’s unwillingness to deal in facts has manifested in some catastrophic policy moves. The U.S. response to the pandemic comes to mind. If he is ignoring intelligence reports that have information this country must act on, it is imperative that Congress know and be able to move to save American lives. If he truly did not know, that would be an unfathomable breakdown in communications that would also demand serious inquiry.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, is among those asking the right questions: Was the information in the Presidential Daily Briefing? Who knew and when? And most importantly, what has been done in response to protect U.S. forces and hold Putin accountable?
Those are not partisan questions. They are questions the American public has a right to know and that Congress must pursue.