Democrats and Republicans Urge Action After Russia-Afghanistan Briefing

House Democrats returning from a briefing at the White House Tuesday said they still have many questions about explosive allegations that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan and questioned why President Donald Trump won’t condemn Vladimir Putin over the issue.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a small group of other House Democrats met with White House officials as Trump downplayed the allegations and the White House said he had not been briefed on them. A handful of Republicans received a similar briefing Monday evening.

The Democrats said their briefing was insufficient and they learned nothing new. Hoyer said it was White House officials giving “their perspective” when lawmakers really need to hear from members of the intelligence community. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said, “The right people to give the briefing really were not in the room.”

The intelligence assessments on the Russian bounties came amid Trump’s push to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan. They suggested Russia was making overtures to militants as the U.S. and the Taliban held talks to end the long-running war. The assessment was first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Democrats left the White House briefing “scratching their heads.” He said the American people need to know more because “for God’s sake, these are our soldiers.”

Schiff said it was “inexplicable” why Trump won’t say publicly that he is working to get to the bottom of the issue and why he won’t call out Russian President Putin. He said Trump’s defense that he hasn’t been briefed is inexcusable.

“Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our nation ill,” Schiff said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not attend the briefing but said Monday — as she often does — that “all roads lead to Putin” when it comes to Trump.

Senate Republicans returning to Washington on Monday evening said they had strong concerns about the reports. Many said they wanted more answers. West Virginia Sen. Shelley More Capito said that Congress needs to get to the truth, because the allegations are “horrifying if true.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has repeatedly insisted Trump wasn’t briefed on the findings because they hadn’t been verified. The White House seemed to be setting an unusually high bar for bringing the information to Trump, since it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of doubt before it is presented to senior government decision-makers.

McEnany declined to say why a different standard of confidence in the intelligence applied to briefing lawmakers than bringing the information to the president.

Some Republicans who were briefed by the White House on Monday also said they left with questions.

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said, “After today’s briefing with senior White House officials, we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces.”

Senators reviewed classified documents related to the allegations Monday evening, including information that was not previously known, according to one aide who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. It was unclear what was contained in the documents.

Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said that Congress should focus on finding out who knew what, and when, “and did the commander in chief know? And if not, how the hell not?”

Others downplayed the matter.

“I don’t think it’s should be a surprise to anybody that the Taliban’s been trying to kill Americans and that the Russians have been encouraging that, if not providing means to make that happen,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, also a member of the intelligence panel. “Intelligence committees have been briefed on that for months. so has Nancy Pelosi, so has (Democratic Senate leader) Chuck Schumer. So, this is, this is a more leaks and partisanship.”

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In This Story: Donald Trump

This story features US President Donald Trump. Donald John Trump is the 45th and current president of the United States. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and television personality. See more Donald Trump news here.

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