WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump must have at least been aware of the allegation that Russia paid bounties to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to kill U.S.-led coalition troops, a senior Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday after a White House briefing.
“Based on what we heard today, it was information that (a) the president should have known about and (b) based on what we were told today, he did - it seems to me like he did know about it,” said Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Trump said on Sunday he was never briefed about any Russian bounties and Trump administration officials have cautioned that there was no consensus on the underlying intelligence among U.S. agencies, something Smith said they underscored to Democratic lawmakers at the closed-door White House briefing on Tuesday.
Smith, whose committee oversees U.S. military activities, said the Pentagon had sent lawmakers a note explaining that it did not find the allegations of Russian bounties “credible.”
But Smith stressed that this information was coming primarily from intelligence, not military channels, and said that there was indeed such evidence of bounties - even if it was not conclusive.
“There was clearly evidence that the Russians were paying the bounties as described,” Smith said, adding that the evidence pointed to bounties for the killing of U.S.-led coalition forces.
The United States has in recent years accused Russia of possibly providing support, including weapons, to elements of the Taliban.
But U.S. military officials have never publicly accused Moscow of putting bounties on the heads of U.S. or allied soldiers.
Smith suggested that regardless of whether the intelligence was conclusive, it was troubling enough to have become a focus of U.S.-Russia relations and must have come to Trump’s attention.
“It is hard for me to (be able to) believe based on the way it was presented that the president knew nothing about it as he stated,” Smith said.
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali, Editing by Franklin Paul and Steve Orlofsky