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Trump, then-DNI Grenell say they weren’t briefed on purported Russia bounty program

President Donald J. Trump at a coronavirus (COVID-19) progress briefing Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks) | Richard Grenell speaking with supporters at an "An Address to Young Americans" event, featuring President Donald Trump at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
June 29, 2020

Following a New York Times report alleging that Russian spies had placed bounties with the Taliban for the death of U.S. troops, President Donald Trump and then-Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell said they were never even briefed on the matter.

In a tweet on Sunday night, Trump said, “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!!!”

The NYT report released on Friday had alleged that Trump was briefed on the information in March.

California Rep. Ted Lieu took aim at former Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, saying, “Did you really not tell @realDonaldTrump and @VP Pence that Russia was paying militants to kill US troops?”

“I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence. You clearly don’t understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain,” Grenell shot back at Lieu.

Trump retweeted Grenell’s reply and called on NYT to reveal its source for the report.

“The Fake News @ nytimes must reveal its “anonymous” source. Bet they can’t do it, this “person” probably does not even exist!” Trump said.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe also confirmed that Trump and Vice President Pence were never briefed on the information, and called the NYT report “inaccurate.”

“I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday,” Ratcliffe said. “The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate.”

The NYT report, citing “officials close to the matter,” said the Russian military intelligence unit had given the Taliban bounty money for successful attacks on coalition forces.

The Russian intelligence unit has been linked to previous assassination attempts, as well as destabilization efforts in Europe and revenge attacks. However, it is the first reported instance of Russian intelligence facilitating attacks on U.S. troops.

At least some of the U.S. intelligence officials’ findings are based on information extracted from captured Afghan militants, the report said.

In 2019, 20 Americans were killed in combat incidents in Afghanistan, and some may have been attacks for which the Taliban was paid by the Russian unit.