Congressional Democrats left a classified briefing at the White House on Tuesday confident that President Trump was less than truthful when he claimed media outlets were pulling off a political “hoax” by reporting on an alleged Russian plot to kill American soldiers.
In fact, the Democrats, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said that the closed-door briefing only made them more alarmed about the allegations that a Russian military intelligence unit offered cash bounties for Taliban fighters to assassinate U.S. service members in Afghanistan.
“The president called this a hoax publicly. Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax,” Hoyer (D-Md.) said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “There may be different judgments as to the level of credibility, but there was no assertion that the information we had was a hoax.”
Unable to delve into much detail due to classification protocols, Hoyer and the other senior Democrats who joined him at the briefing said the White House did little to answer their myriad questions.
“The right people to give the briefing really were not in the room,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said, lamenting that Trump political appointees led the briefing instead of career intelligence officials.
Hoyed chimed in: “I thought this briefing was the White House personnel telling us their perspective. I think we knew the White House perspective. What we need to know is the intelligence perspective.”
The Democrats said they repeatedly pressed the White House officials for assurances that the full Congress will be briefed by intelligence officials on the Russian bounty plot allegations. The officials refused to give any such commitments, Hoyer said.
Trump called the bounty plot allegations “possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax” on Sunday after The New York Times first reported that the president had been briefed on the intelligence months ago but did nothing to push back on the Kremlin.
Trump and his officials have maintained that the president was never briefed on the intelligence.
But Democrats say Trump’s see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil defense raises more questions than it answers.
“It was inconceivable by his perspective that there is not a cause for a briefing on this matter of such importance,” Hoyer said.
Quoting the famous Cold War-era commander-in-chief, Hoyer added: “President Truman said, ‘The buck stops here.’ President Trump says, ‘I never saw the buck.‘”
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who was also at the briefing, said Trump’s silence is equally as perplexing, especially now that the cat’s out of the bag.
“If that isn’t something to go crazy about I don’t know what is,” Engel said of the alleged bounties. “Why doesn’t the president condemn Putin? Why doesn’t the president stand up for the United States?”
According to reports, Trump first received word on the alleged Russian bounties in February as part of the daily written intelligence brief he gets everyday from the CIA.
Trump is infamous for not paying much mind to the highly-sensitive briefs and is said to only read them occasionally.
Stressing he was only speaking broadly and not about details from Tuesday’s briefing, Schiff said it would be backwards for the White House to claim that Trump’s only in the dark because of his reluctance to read.
“It’s not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has,” Schiff said. “If he doesn’t read, he doesn’t read, they should know that by now. If it’s something the president needs to know … it needs to be shared with him in the form he takes it.”
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