US officials discovered Russia's payments to the Taliban to target US troops, but Trump's White House didn't tell House Republicans in a briefing (John Haltiwanger)
President Donald Trump delivers remarks to US troops in an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019.

Tom Brenner/Reuters

  • US officials reportedly intercepted electronic data exhibiting massive financial transfers from Russia's military intelligence agency (the GRU) to a Taliban-linked account. 
  • The financial transfer data bolstered intelligence gathered from interrogations pointing to a Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked militants to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. 
  • House GOP lawmakers briefed on this intelligence at the White House on Monday were not told about the intercepted data on the financial transfers, according to the New York Times. 
  • The Trump administration has downplayed reports on the suspected Russian plot, while claiming President Donald Trump was never briefed on the matter.
  • Multiple reports suggest the intelligence was included more than once in Trump's written daily briefing, including in late February and possibly as early as last year. 
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The Trump administration on Monday briefed several GOP lawmakers on intelligence suggesting Russia paid Taliban-linked militants to target US troops in Afghanistan, but did not tell the House Republicans that US officials had intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia's military intelligence agency (the GRU) to a Taliban-linked account, the New York Times reported.

The intercepted data on the financial transfers is corroborated by intelligence gleaned from interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals, the Times said, and is among the most significant reported findings regarding the alleged Russian plot so far. 

Monday's White House briefing for the GOP lawmakers was primarily conducted by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and national security adviser Robert C. O'Brien.

The briefing included information supporting the conclusion that Russia ran the bounty operation, as well as information that undermined it.

Two people familiar with the meeting told the Times that the briefing seemed designed to underscore that the intelligence was not "clear cut." It's unclear why the administration did not tell the lawmakers about the financial evidence reportedly intercepted by US officials. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence when contacted by Insider pointed to a statement from Ratcliffe on Monday saying "we are still investigating the alleged intelligence." 

FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2019, file photo, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during the House impeachment inquiry hearings in Washington. Trump has nominated Ratcliffe again to be nation's top intelligence official, (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Associated Press

The Trump administration has downplayed the alleged Russian bounty operation since the Times first broke the story last week, claiming that the reports are unsubstantiated and that President Donald Trump was never briefed on the matter. The White House has taken no known actions in response to the alleged Russian bounty operation.

"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," Trump tweeted on Sunday.

But Trump was reportedly briefed on the subject in late February, when intelligence on the suspected Russian plot was included in his daily written brief. Trump, however, has garnered a reputation for not reading his daily briefings and for interrupting and lecturing those who brief him. 

The Associated Press on Monday also reported that the White House was aware of the suspected Russian bounty plot in the early months of 2019, far earlier than previously reported. The assessment was reportedly included in at least one of Trump's daily written briefings, and then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019. Bolton declined to comment on this when reached out to by the Associated Press. 

But on Tuesday, Bolton tweeted: "If reports that Russia offered bounty payments to Taliban forces for killing Americans in Afghanistan are true, it's tantamount to an attack on Americans directly. At a minimum, we must consider strong economic sanctions as part of a comprehensive response."

Twenty US service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2019, and four were killed in the early part of 2020.

It's unclear whether the suspected Russian bounty plot was directly tied to any of these deaths, but investigators are reportedly focusing on two deadly attacks on US forces in Afghanistan in this regard — including an April 2019 bombing outside Bagram Air Base that killed three Marines. Russia and the Taliban, which is involved in tenuous peace talks with the US and Afghan governments, have both vehemently denied the existence of a bounty operation. 

Congressional lawmakers briefed on the intelligence have slammed Trump for suggesting the suspected Russian plot was a "hoax."

"I just reviewed the intel. It's not a hoax, Mr. President. And if you continue ignoring the facts, more soldiers and Marines are going to die," Sen. Chris Murphy, a top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted on Monday. 

Murphy was heavily critical of the GOP-only briefing at the White House on Monday.

"Every Republican who rushed to the White House to get this political briefing weakened the nation's security today," Murphy said in a tweet. "Once national security intelligence becomes just a political tool to be used at the whim of the White House, there is no way to effectively protect America."

Senate Democrats and Republicans were also briefed on the intelligence at a separate White House meeting Tuesday morning. 

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2017 file photo, American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan. Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

Associated Press

In January 2020, Trump ordered a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general and pushed the US and Iran to the brink of war. The Trump administration said the strike was due to imminent threats on US forces in the Middle East, but hasn't provided specific evidence to back-up this assertion. Along these lines, many in Washington have been up in arms that Trump was reportedly briefed on intelligence pointing to a Russian plot to harm US troops, but did nothing in response. And congressional Democrats have been pushing for a full briefing on the matter the US intelligence community.

"I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn't come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russia is putting bounties on American troops and that he will do everything in his power to make sure that we protect American troops," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday. 

"I do not understand for a moment why the president is not saying this to the American people right now and is relying on 'I don't know,' 'I haven't heard,' 'I haven't been briefed.' That is just not excusable," Schiff added. 

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