The White House briefed Republican lawmakers on Monday on an intelligence assessment that Russian operatives had offered a bounty for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan, a day after Donald Trump said his intelligence advisers “did not find this info credible”.
In an unusual step, Democratic lawmakers were not included in the initial briefing, which was conducted by the national security adviser, the director of national intelligence and the White House chief of staff.
Later on Monday a new planwas revealed and Congressman Steny Hoyer, the No 2 Democrat in the House, said a number of leading Democrats would be briefed at the White House on Tuesday at 8am.
Trump has publicly attacked the strength of the intelligence about the alleged bounty program. An initial report on the program last week by the New York Times, which has since been widely corroborated, raised the question of why the United States had not taken action in response to the suspected targeting of US soldiers.
Trump claimed on Sunday that he had never been briefed on the intelligence assessment. Later that day he said that intelligence officials told him the threat was not “credible”.
But Trump was contradicted in the White House briefing room on Monday by the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who said that views about the veracity of the intelligence were mixed within the intelligence community.
“There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations, and in effect there are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regard to the veracity of what’s being reported, and the veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated,” McEnany said.
Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare website at the Brookings Institution, replied on Twitter: “This smells like the White House trying to mislead the public.
“It is common for different intelligence agencies to attach different degrees of confidence based on the manner on underlying intel; that isn’t the same as there being disagreement over whether something happened,” Hennessey wrote.
“Maybe there really is a disagreement between agencies on whether this happened at all. But there is strong consensus among the reporting and the language the White House is using sure seems designed to obfuscate.”
The national security council spokesman, John Ullyot, told the Washington Post that “the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated,” while the CIA, state department and defense department all declined comment.
The Post reported on Monday that the bounty program was believed to have resulted in deaths of US troops. Top Republican members on the House armed services and foreign affairs committees were briefed on Monday by the White House.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark, the vice-chair of the Democratic caucus, questioned Trump’s reaction to having purportedly been left in the dark about the bounty program. “The president is saying that he did not know of this, but where’s the outrage from him, that he didn’t know about this?” Clark told Fox news. “Where is his questioning and demands for information?”
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, denied on Monday that such a bounty program existed. “You know, maybe I can say it’s a little bit rude but this is 100% bullshit,” Peskov told NBC News’ Keir Simmons.