On Wednesday morning, congressional leadership was briefed on the intelligence behind Russia’s scheme to murder U. S. soldiers and halt progress on Afghanistan peace talks by offering bounties to Taliban militants. This briefing apparently took place in the Senate SCIF, and while it was originally announced as being for the “gang of eight” (Democratic and Republican leadership, plus the top ranking members of the intelligence committees) it seems that additional senators were on hand. For the most part, Democrats who attended this session came away frustrated that the briefing was given by White House officials with limited direct knowledge. “There was no one there who had any information about what information was given to the president or when it was given to him,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “That was not a briefing.” This follows similar complaints about yesterday’s briefing. But as it turns out, a couple of things have emerged concerning the reports that Donald Trump continues to call “a hoax” and which Republican legislators are describing as “unsubstantiated.”
First, it seems that these reports—which definitely were presented to Donald Trump, at least twice—became the basis of tactical adjustments for the military in Afghanistan. So the intelligence that Republicans are continuing to dismiss was not dismissed by the people whose boots are on the ground. However, even that point seems less alarming than the statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We’ve talked to the Russians about how we can reduce the risk,” said Pompeo. “The President has taken the threat incredibly seriously.”
It’s difficult to even know where to start with Pompeo’s statement. Is the claim that Trump “has taken the threat incredibly seriously” when Trump has called it “a hoax” four times in the last two days, the bigger issue? Or is the more salient point that Pompeo discussed how to reduce the risk of Americans being murdered because Russia was conducting a proxy war of assassination, with the Russians? How did this conversation go? “Gee, Vlad, what can we give you to get you to stop killing American troops? You can have anything … except that site Donald is saving for the Moscow Trump Tower.”
What’s obvious at this point is that:
- The intelligence community has known about the Russian scheme for over a year.
- Trump was personally briefed in March of 2019 and received an update in a daily brief on Feb. 27.
- Intelligence has tracked the transfer of Russian money into accounts of the Taliban militants.
- The intelligence was regarded as high enough quality to be briefed to Trump, reported to allies, and form the basis of tactical change in Afghanistan.
- Through all of this, Trump did not confront Putin, attempt to halt the payments, or threaten any sanctions or other pushback.
- Instead, Trump invited Putin to attend the G7, tried to convince other leaders into putting Russia back in the group, and conducted a cluster of personal calls with Putin—at least five calls in the last four months.