House leaders are demanding an emergency briefing on reports of Russian officials offering bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saying the president either should have known or should have been told about the serious allegations.
Both Democrats and Republicans say that briefing should come as soon as possible — as early as later this afternoon, if White House officials can hastily arrange such an event — to determine how credible the threat is and much danger American military personnel have faced.
“When you are dealing with the lives of our service members, especially these allegations, then it is incredibly serious,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We in Congress need to see the information and judge for ourselves. It will not be acceptable to have a delay.”
Committee members requested the briefing over the weekend. By Monday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued her own request that all House members receive information on the controversy.
“The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” she wrote in a letter to the White House. “The president’s refusal to stand up to the Russians also jeopardizes lives in the region, as the Afghan government and the United States are engaged in critical peace negotiations with the Taliban.”
Last week, the New York Times reported that American intelligence officials have found evidence that Russian officials offered Taliban-linked militants financial incentives to target and kill U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The paper also noted that evidence was presented to senior administration officials in late March, and that President Donald Trump was made aware of the issue but did not offer any response.
On Sunday, Trump took to social media to deny that he was informed of any such threat against American troops, writing that intelligence officials “reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or (Vice President Mike Pence). Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax.”
But lawmakers said that dismissal isn’t enough given the grave nature of the accusations.
“Those who serve our country in a combat zone voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way. We must do everything we can to support them,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement Monday morning.
“We must find out exactly what was known, and when it was known to hold the appropriate administration officials and the Russian government accountable.”
Thornberry said he has not seen any information on the bounty allegations, and does not know whether they constituted a credible threat.
“But anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, or put a bounty on their lives, should have been briefed immediately to commander in chief,” he told reporters on Monday. “It may be appropriate for people who briefed the president to be removed if they didn’t brief the president on that.”
Thornberry noted that Russia has “tried to cause mischief” for U.S. forces in Afghanistan for a number of years, but called the new allegations “a different level” and “egregious.”
Trump has been criticized by Democrats throughout his administration for not dealing with the Russian threat more aggressively. Over the weekend, Trump again pushed back on that notion, tweeting that “nobody has been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration” and criticizing the New York Times, former vice president Joe Biden and others for their past actions.
White House officials did not immediately respond to the calls for a congressional briefing.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.