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President Donald Trump admitted he has never confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin with the intelligence suggesting the Kremlin paid the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Trump told Axios that he hadn’t brought up the issue with Putin during a phone call the pair had last Thursday, because the intelligence “never reached my desk.” But the White House said earlier this month that the president has been “fully briefed” on the situation.
“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump said, suggesting he didn’t believe the intelligence. “That was a phone call to discuss other things, and that is an issue that many people said was fake news.”
When asked who said it was fake news, Trump said “a lot of people” and “if you look at the wonderful folks from the Bush administration, [they] were saying that it’s a fake issue.”
Trump on Monday had declined to comment on whether the controversy about Russian bounties had been discussed on the phone call, the eighth between the pair since February.
But Trump told Axios, in an interview recorded Tuesday, that if the intelligence had been included in his Daily Brief — the president’s written intelligence briefing — he would have confronted Putin about it. "If it reached my desk, I would have done something about it.”
Several reports in recent weeks said the intelligence regarding Russia’s payment of bounties to the Taliban was included in his daily briefing documents as early as this February. And one report, from AP last month, cited senior White House officials and said the intelligence had been included in at least one daily briefing as early as March 2019.
White House officials haven’t denied the reports, but National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has previously said Trump was never verbally briefed on the Russian bounty intelligence, because his CIA briefer concluded the reports were uncorroborated.
When asked if he had read his written briefing documents, Trump said he did.
“I read a lot,” the president said. “They like to say I don't read. I read a lot. I comprehend extraordinarily well. Probably better than anybody that you've interviewed in a long time.”
Since the New York Times broke the story last month, Democrats have been critical of Trump’s unwillingness to hold Putin to account, and on Wednesday the Biden campaign called the latest failure to do so “absolutely despicable.”
The most critical and sacred obligation of a commander-in-chief is to protect those who serve our nation in harm’s way,” the Biden campaign said in a statement. “But months after the U.S. intelligence community sounded the alarm our president continues to turn his back on those who put their lives on the line for our country, and on his own duty.”
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on July 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)(Sipa via AP Images)