The White House denied reports that President Donald Trump had been briefed by intelligence officials about, but had done nothing to respond to, an effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to put bounties on U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.
The statement, released Saturday evening, came shortly after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden slammed Trump for the alleged inaction, which was first detailed in a New York Times report on Friday.
“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Adviser, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
McEnany said she wasn’t commenting on the “merit of the alleged intelligence” on Russia’s moves, major elements of which were also reported by the Washington Post.
Russian military intelligence units offered the bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. and U.K. troops, according to the New York Times, which said that Trump had been briefed and the administration had spent months considering a response but had made no final decisions.
Biden pounced on the topic during an Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote virtual town hall meeting.
“Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” the former vice president said on Saturday. “He had has this information, according to the [New York] Times, and yet he offered to host Putin in the United States and sought to invite Russia to rejoin the G7.”
Biden, Trump’s rival in the November election, also went after Russia’s leader, saying “there is no bottom to the depth of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s depravity.”
If the Times report is accurate, Trump’s reaction amounts to “worse than nothing,” Biden added. Trump has sought friendly relations with Putin, who made efforts to boost him in the 2016 election.
“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale,” Biden said. “It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation — protect and equip our troops when we go into harm’s way.”
The “betrayal” applies to military families as well, said Biden, invoking his own experience as a father who sent his son Beau to Iraq a decade ago. “I’m disgusted on behalf of those families whose loved ones are serving today.”
If he’s elected, Biden said, “Vladimir Putin will be confronted and we’ll impose serious costs on Russia.”
Democratic lawmakers also criticized Trump about the report. “They put bounties on the heads of American soldiers and Trump thought the ‘ask them to stop’ option presented by his advisors was too harsh,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
A key Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, said it was “imperative Congress get to the bottom of” the allegations about Russia. “I expect the Trump administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports,” the South Carolina Republican said on Twitter.