Trump and Pence weren’t briefed on alleged Russian bounties, intel chief confirms

America’s top intel official has confirmed that news reports arguing that President Donald Trump ignored intelligence about Russians putting cash bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers are just the latest examples of “fake news.”

According to the Washington Examiner, U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe says that neither President Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence were informed about widely reported U.S. intelligence that alleged Russians are “offering bounties to Afghan militants” who target the United States and its allies.

Ratcliffe clarified the matter in a statement released late Saturday. “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, according to the Examiner.

He went on: “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.”

“Russian bounty intelligence”

As Ratcliffe alluded, the controversy began with a New York Times report published Friday that indicated that a U.S. intelligence assessment had found a Russian spy had given money to Afghan militants with connections to the Taliban to go after U.S. and coalition troops. The Times further reported that President Trump was briefed about this matter, but had yet to decide how to respond to it.

That account was disputed by many in the Trump administration, however, including Ratcliffe and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day, and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” McEnany said earlier Saturday, according to a separate report from the Washington Examiner.

She continued: “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, National Security adviser, and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”

“Nobody’s been tougher”

According to the Examiner, McEnany made clear in her remarks that “this does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence;” in other words, the White House has not confirmed or denied that Russians have indeed placed bounties on American soldiers. If they have, it would surely have an impact on the Trump adminstration’s hopes of reaching a peace deal with Afghanistan — one that would include the Taliban, as the Examiner reports.

It also remains unclear what exactly the White House will do in response to this intelligence, if true. For his part, President Trump has expressed a sentiment similar to that of McEnany and Ratcliffe, calling the Times report “just another phony Times hit job.”

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