“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score,” Pelosi said.
According to the Times report, published Friday, the bounties were offered amid peace talks to end the long-running war in Afghanistan. The report cites U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence, who also said President Donald Trump was made aware and the White House’s National Security Council discussed a response, but didn’t take action.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for answers. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he expects the administration to take these allegations seriously. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said the Senate should vote on new sanctions against Russia.
On Saturday, the White House issued a cautious response, saying neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence were briefed on the alleged intelligence. “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany added.
Trump broke his silence early Sunday morning to reiterate that he and Pence had not been briefed, questioning the Times’ anonymous source and once again calling the outlet “Fake News.” The president then deflected onto his Democratic rivals.
“Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine — Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their ‘source’?”
A spokesman for the Taliban denied the Times report, and the Russian embassy tweeted that the story was filled with “baseless and anonymous accusations.”
The embassy also tapped into Trump’s language: “Stop producing #fakenews that provoke life threats, @nytimes.”
On Sunday, Pelosi was incredulous. If the president was not briefed about the situation, she said, “what does that say about the concern that those who briefed the president have about not going anywhere near the Russia issue with this president?”
The Speaker said the “list is a long one” in terms of Trump giving Russia a pass. She pointed to Russian interference in the 2016 election and the president saying he would invite Putin to an expanded meeting of the Group of 7 nations.
“This Week” host George Stephanopoulos asked Pelosi directly if she thought the Russians had something on Trump.
She responded: “Why wouldn’t he say, let’s look into it and see what this [is]? Giving the money to Taliban, a bounty on the lives of our troops in Afghanistan. How do you answer to the families of those who — family members who are serving there?”
American troops have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; the objective was to dislodge the Taliban and hunt down Osama bin Laden. When Russia was still part of the Soviet Union, it was also involved in a costly war there, from 1979 to 1989.