A group of Congressional Democrats will be briefed at the White House Tuesday in response to ongoing accusations that Trump was made aware of but ignored what The New York Times described last Friday as a Russian military intelligence operation that sought to kill American troops in Afghanistan by issuing bounties to Taliban fighters.
This following a Monday briefing of at least seven Republican lawmakers, also as both Republican and Democratic leaders demand answers and full briefings from the CIA and Pentagon. Crucially it remains, however, that the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have firmly rejected that the president was ever briefed.
On Saturday Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said in a statement that he had "confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting."
And Trump said further in a Saturday night tweet: “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or VP.”
A carefully worded and to be expected somewhat vague Monday evening statement from CIA Director Gina Haspel appeared to vindicate the White House's assertion of lack of credible intelligence behind it. Essentially the CIA director seemed to reference the danger of "cherry-picking" from lower level unvetted raw information.
"When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation," Haspel said.
"Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability," she added, strongly suggesting that indeed there was not enough to go on concerning the Russian bounty allegations for it to rise to the level of the commander-in-chief.
A number of pundits took this as a clear denial that there was anything significant or worthy of briefing the president on regarding alleged "Russian bounties" — meaning it was likely deemed "chatter" or unsubstantiated rumor picked up either by US or British intelligence — and subsequently leaked to the press to revive the pretty much dead Russiagate narrative of some level of "Trump-Putin collusion".
Still, Congress wants answers in what's already indeed looking like a revived Russiagate scenario conveniently timed for the outrage machine to kick into full gear just ahead of the November election.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said: “If the reports are true, that the administration knew about this Russian operation and did nothing, they have broken the trust of those who serve and the commitment to their families to ensure their loved one’s safety,” according to The Hill. “It is imperative that the House Armed Services Committee receive detailed answers from the Department of Defense.”
And of course newly minted "resistance hero" John Bolton, busy with a media blitz promoting his book, made statements to NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday stating his belief that the president was likely briefed on the matter. The former national security adviser called the Trump denial "remarkable" — enough to grab headlines.
But considering his careful, ambiguous remarks, it's clear that belief is the operative word here:
“He can disown everything if no-one ever told him about it,” Bolton said... “It looks like just another day in the office at the Trump White House.”
Bolton said he didn’t know the quality of the intelligence on the Russian bounty plan, or the extent of it. And not all information that flows through the many U.S. intelligence agencies is passed on to the commander in chief, Bolton noted.
“There needs to be a filter of intelligence for any president, especially for this president,” he said.
“Active Russian aggression like that against American servicemen is a very, very serious matter,” Bolton added.
So at this point we are still merely at the level of "impossible to verify or confirm anything", despite the major outlets behind the original story, namely the NY Times and Washington Post, claiming to have "confirmed" each other's reporting.
* * *
Meanwhile, speaking of America's longest war, does anyone at all of Capitol Hill remember this actual confirmed and exhaustively documented story?