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AP: US probing if Russian bounties played role in killing of Marines

House Homeland Security Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Scott Perry (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr)

U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether a roadside bomb that last year killed two Marines with ties to York County was linked to bounties offered by Russia to kill American soldiers.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the investigation was ongoing as GOP lawmakers urged action following reports over the weekend that the GRU, a Russian military intelligence unit, offered Taliban militants in Afghanistan bounties for dead Americans.

Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, a York native and Dallastown Area High School graduate, and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, a Newark, Delaware, resident whose parents live in Lower Windsor Township, died in the Taliban attack on April 8, 2019.

Cpl. Robert A. Hendricks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York, also died in the attack.

The Marines were part of the Georgia Deployment Program-Resolute Support Mission, a recurring six-month rotation involving U.S. Marines and Georgian armed forces that contributes to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

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The York Dispatch was unable to reach members of the either man’s family on Tuesday.

News of the investigation came after The New York Times reported over the weekend that Russia offered the bounties and President Donald Trump had been briefed on the matter as early as March.

The White House first became aware of alleged bounties in early 2019, The Associated Press reported.

Trump has dismissed those claims, saying he was never briefed because the information was not verified. His administration has largely focused on supporting his rebuttal.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have recognized the gravity of the reports, but they have said more information is needed to verify if they are true.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed those sentiments in a Tuesday news conference with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

But if the intelligence is accurate, he said, the U.S. should issue “the absolutely strongest response we can level on that.”

Perry, of Carroll Township, and Scalise also highlighted the dangers of the bounty allegations being leaked. Media reports have heavily relied on anonymous sources over the past few days.

“We should be vigorously seeking to find out who leaked this information and prosecute them,” Perry said, claiming individuals leaked information about the bounties for political purposes.

Not only were the leaks illegal, Scalise said, but they have put American lives at risk and tipped off Russia, giving the country time to destroy evidence.

Russia had already been under sanctions for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and invading Ukraine in 2014.

Perry and Scalise argued Trump has been by far more aggressive than former President Barack Obama, who ejected 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives and penalized four GRU officers in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

However, critics have said the lack of a timely, aggressive response to news of the GRU offering Taliban militants bounties highlights Trump’s failure to hold to account Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For years, Democrats have accused Trump of pandering to Putin.

Perry on Tuesday called those who believe that sentiment hypocrites, as they were the same people who “complained bitterly” about the drone strike he authorized in January that killed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps.

Over the past couple of days, Democrats have also attacked the Trump administration for not briefing Congress on the intelligence reports.

Eight Republicans were the first to be briefed by the White House on Monday, news that U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., immediately pounced on.

“That’s not a congressional briefing. That’s a strategy meeting,” Casey tweeted Monday. “Russian schemes to target and kill U.S. service members is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue. The full House and full Senate must be briefed immediately.”

Eight Democrats were briefed Tuesday on the matter, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined Casey in labeling the briefings insufficient and partisan.

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© 2020 The York Dispatch