Biden criticizes Trump over intelligence on Russian bounties on U.S. troops

click to enlarge Former Vice President Joe Biden in Dallas, March 2, 2020. - TODD HEISLER/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Former Vice President Joe Biden in Dallas, March 2, 2020.

By Eric Schmitt, Michael Schwirtz and Charlie Savage

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden assailed President Donald Trump on Saturday for failing to punish Russia for offering bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, while the White House denied that Trump had been briefed on the months-old classified intelligence assessment about Russia’s activities.

Citing officials briefed on the matter, The New York Times reported Friday that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly paid Taliban-linked militants to target coalition troops in Afghanistan, including Americans, and that Trump had been briefed about it. The article also reported that the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March but that no response had yet been authorized.

Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, portrayed that as shameful.

“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden said in a virtual town hall event held by the group Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote.

The officials briefed on the matter said the intelligence assessment was based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. The officials said that the assessment had been treated as a closely held secret but that the administration expanded briefings about it over the past week — including sharing information with the British government.

But as criticism of the administration’s inaction swelled on Friday and Saturday, the White House claimed that Trump had never been told about the intelligence assessment.

“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,” the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said in a statement Saturday afternoon.

But one U.S. official had told The Times that the intelligence finding that the Russians had offered and paid bounties to Afghan militants and criminals had been briefed at the highest levels of the White House.

Another said it was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a document that draws from spywork to make analytic predictions about long-standing adversaries, unfolding plots and emerging crises around the world.

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