CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is calling for a Senate hearing into a report Russia secretly offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan for the killing of American troops, and that President Donald Trump has known about it for months, but did nothing.
“First, Donald Trump encouraged Russia to interfere in our democracy, and they did. Now, Russia is secretly paying militants to kill U.S. troops. Trump has known for months but apparently done nothing to stop them,” Duckworth said in a statement on Saturday.
The New York Times reported Friday that American intelligence officials have concluded a Russian intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
According to the report, the Russians offered the rewards for successful attacks on coalition forces at a time when the U.S. and Taliban were holding peace talks.
The report stated President Donald Trump was briefed on the problem, but has yet to authorize any steps to make a complaint to Moscow and demand it stop, or to impose sanctions or other possible responses.
Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost both her legs when the U.S. Army helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq in 2004, said “Trump is literally placing Russian interests ahead of American lives, and Republicans do nothing.”
“Putting party before country doesn’t just empower Trump to continue serving his own interests, it can cost American lives too,” Duckworth said. “Our troops deserve to know what the Trump Administration is doing to protect them and why Donald Trump failed to take action in the first place. I will demand a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to get to the bottom of BountyGate.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Saturday neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence was briefed on such intelligence. “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” McEnany said in a statement.
Russia called the report “nonsense.”
“This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The Times quoted a Taliban spokesman denying that its militants have such a deal with the Russian intelligence agency.
The newspaper, citing unnamed officials familiar with the intelligence, said the findings were presented to Trump and discussed by his National Security Council in late March. Officials developed potential responses, starting with a diplomatic complaint to Russia, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the report said.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the New York Times report, if true, contains a “truly shocking revelation” about the commander in chief and his failure to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.
“Not only has he failed to sanction and impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” the former vice president said.
Biden called it a “betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation — to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”
He said Americans who serve in the military put their life on the line. “But they should never, never, never ever face a threat like this with their commander in chief turning a blind eye to a foreign power putting a bounty on their heads,” he said.
“I’m quite frankly outraged by the report,” Biden said. He promised that if he is elected, “Putin will be confronted and we’ll impose serious costs on Russia.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)