BY DOINA CHIACU, PATRICIA ZENGERLE AND SUSAN HEAVEY
President Donald Trump was not verbally briefed on a reported Russian effort to pay the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan because the allegations were not corroborated at the time, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Wednesday.
O’Brien, however, declined to say whether the intelligence, which U.S. ally Britain also has said it was aware of, had been included in a written presidential briefing earlier this year.
He also attributed the decision not to brief the president to a senior civil servant in the Central Intelligence Agency, and said he supported that call.
“The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told reporters at the White House. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”
The Republican president has faced a barrage of criticism after New York Times reports that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered bounties for U.S. and allied soldiers and that Trump received a written briefing on the matter in February.
After Trump initially said he was not briefed on the matter, the White House earlier this week said Trump was not “personally” briefed but did not address whether he had received a written report or read it, and why he had not responded more aggressively if so.
O’Brien told reporters on Wednesday that Trump has now been briefed on the Russian bounty reports.
“The president’s been fully briefed,” O’Brien said outside the White House. “We don’t get into written classified documents.”
Democrats on Tuesday called on Trump to consider imposing new economic sanctions on Russia if the information was confirmed.
Trump has tried to deflect criticism by saying the intelligence was not conclusive enough to be brought to his attention, and by calling news reports “fake news.”
“I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Democratic lawmakers have asked for more in-depth briefings on the issue. O’Brien said the Gang of Eight – congressional leaders and intelligence committee lawmakers – would be briefed by intelligence officials. A congressional source said the briefing was expected on Thursday.