October 22, 2020

Evidence of Russian bounties may have threatened Trump’s deal in Afghanistan, official says

Putin and Trump

New reports are bolstering the story that Russian may have paid bounties to Taliban-linked militias for killing U.S. troops. The Times reports:

“American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.”

However, Donald Trump is doubling down on denial. First, he claimed he wasn’t briefed. Then, he claimed the “Russian Bounty” story is a “just another hoax,” which the Post indicates “actually incriminates him.” 

Apparently, Trump would have Americans believe the story doesn’t exist, but Republican lawmakers confirmed its existence. So, either Trump is acting reflexively to protect himself politically, or “the less charitable interpretation is worse.” Trump is failing to take a stand on Russian bounties, which emboldens Russia at a time Russian may meddle in the 2020 elections.

As A.P. News reported, news of the Russian bounties was included in Trump’s daily briefing in early 2019.

“Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the A.P. if he’d briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of response. 

“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.

However, the report also stated: “Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues at the time that he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.”

So, is Trump denying the story to “disown everything,” as his former National Security Advisor suggests? 

 Another Times report indicates another possible motive for disowning everything, given the timing of early 2019. Could the intelligence briefing have interfered with Trump’s deal to withdraw troops in Afghanistan?

“…So it is little surprise that after three and a half years, there is often hesitation to bring Mr. Trump damning intelligence about Russia.

And in this case, there was another element: concern inside the White House about any intelligence findings that might interfere with the administration’s announcement of a peace deal with the Taliban.

After months of broken-off negotiations, Mr. Trump was intent on announcing the accord in February, as a prelude to declaring that he was getting Americans out of Afghanistan. As one senior official described it, the evidence about Russia could have threatened that deal because it suggested that after 18 years of war, Mr. Trump was letting Russia chase the last American troops out of the country.

The warning to Mr. Trump appeared in the President’s briefing book — which Mr. Bolton said almost always went unread — in late February. On Feb. 28, the President issued a statement that a signing ceremony for the Afghan deal was imminent.”

How could the President of the United States go forward with a peace deal with the Taliban if he knew Russia was paying them bounties on U.S. troops? He couldn’t unless he denied ever knowing about the story or he genuinely did not know about it at the time.

Once again, the important part of the story is not when Trump was briefed; it’s about his actions up to today. He’s still claiming it’s all a “hoax” and refusing to do anything that would discourage Russian aggression – or even meddling in our elections again on his behalf. And, Republicans in the Senate appear to be just fine with the latter scenario.

Featured image: President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, July 2017 via Wikipedia CommonsCC BY 4.0

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