When the first reports of Russia offering up bounties for the death of American soldiers was first reported on Friday, the basics of the information were already in place: Russia offered Taliban militants in Afghanistan a cash payment for killing troops from America or other members of the NATO-backed forces occupying the country, and it appears that Russia has paid off on those bounties, possibly in over a dozen cases. Over the course of the days that have followed, that information has only gotten worse—and the attempts to protect Trump have become more pathetic. After that original New York Times report, The Washington Post went on to confirm the account through different sources on Saturday, and to add the detail that part of Russia’s intention in putting a bounty on the head of American troops was to cause the breakdown of talks over an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the meantime, Trump has held a series of phone calls with Vladimir Putin during the first half of 2020, calling the Russian autocrat at least five times and advocating that Russia be readmitted to the G7 economic organization.
The White House response to all this has been repeated claims that Donald Trump was never briefed on the Russian actions. Trump himself described the issue as “another Russian hoax.” However, when asked if the information had been included in one of Trump’s daily briefs, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave a response that seemed incredibly evasive. Then on Monday evening, CNN reported that Trump had in fact been given a written brief on the Russian actions in the spring, with The New York Times following up with information that the brief had happened on February 27. And now the Associated Press is reporting that the White House knew about the program since at least 2019, and that Trump was briefed on the information over a year ago.
That AP report sets the date of Trump’s initial brief on the Russian program as no later than March of 2019. And the information wasn’t just being shared among “top White House officials,” it was included in Trump’s daily briefs at least as early as that date. But of course, Trump’s disdain for reading the critical information put in front of him, and the sickening efforts that officials must make to gain his attention has been the focus of endless stories since the 2016 election. Both McEnany’s response in the press conference and reactions from Republican politicians seem to be aimed at the “he’s not a traitor, he’s just incompetent” fallback position in suggesting that even if the information was in Trump’s daily briefing, he didn’t read it.
But even that innocence-through-illiteracy position doesn’t seem sustained in light of information included in the AP report. While previous stories have been sourced anonymously, the latest information comes with a name: former national security adviser John Bolton. Not only was the information on Russia’s program of offering bounties included in the daily briefings, Bolton assured others at the White House that he had personally briefed Trump on the information. The information on Russia buying the death of American soldiers wasn’t just one item in a list of things presented by Bolton, it was the only item on the agenda—the sole purpose of the meeting.
When questioned about these reports, Bolton refused to reply directly. But the former NSA did indicate on Meet the Press that Trump was attempting to pretend ignorance to avoid the consequences. “He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” said Bolton.
All of these reports come on top of continued reports that top officials regard Trump as “delusional” and “a danger to the security of the United States” based on his calls to Putin and other foreign leaders. While Trump has called Putin several times in the past, those calls have become more frequent in the first half of 2020. In addition to Putin, Trump has also speaks with Turkish dictator Recep Erdoğan “at least twice a week” and Erdoğan’s calls go directly to Trump.
The news that Trump has known about the Russian program to pay for the death of American soldiers for over a year casts a spotlight on all his upbeat statements about Russia and praise for Putin. In particular, Trump hasn’t just been publicly trying to get Russia re-admitted to the G7 and threatening to invite Putin over the objection of other nations, New York Magazine reported in 2019 that Trump’s behind the scenes efforts were even more intense.