WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer turned up the heat on President Donald Trump over reports that Russia paid militants bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, demanding intelligence briefings for lawmakers and punitive action against Vladimir Putin.
The intelligence reports, cited in news stories, roiled Capitol Hill on Tuesday, again raising concerns that Russia and its president are attacking the United States, but Trump and the White House downplayed the allegations in those reports as unverified.
White House officials briefed a small group of lawmakers late Monday and early Tuesday. Afterward, most Republicans defended the president, but Democrats complained they learned nothing new and asked to have all members of Congress briefed by CIA and intelligence officials.
“I thought this briefing was the White House personnel telling us their perspective. I think we knew the White House perspective. What we need to know is the intelligence perspective,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader.
Schumer, who said he had not been briefed, said, “We need an agreement from the administration to conduct an immediate all-members briefing on the reports” by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
“There's a bigger point here. Where is President Trump? His number one job is to protect American soldiers … He should have a plan — what are we doing?” Schumer said later speaking to reporters. “And above all, go after Putin.”
After The New York Times, which first reported on the allegations of Russian bounties, published a story Tuesday citing large Russian cash transfers to a Taliban-connected account, the White House called a hastily arranged news conference.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany criticized the leakers, the press and Democrats, whom she accused of politicizing the leak. She defended the decision not to brief Trump on what she said was unverified intelligence. Trump has since been briefed, she said.
“The president was never briefed on this. This intelligence still has not been verified, and there is no consensus among the intelligence community,” McEnany said.
Asked about reports that the president's daily briefing earlier this year mentioned the allegations in the intelligence reports, she declined to discuss the contents of those briefing papers. But she said that the president did read the material, despite news reports to the contrary.
She pushed back on alarms raised by Democrats that had Trump known about the possible targeting of U.S. soldiers, he might have taken steps to protect them.
“Make no mistake,” she said. “This president is prepared to act and will always act in protecting our American troops.”
But Republicans on the Hill also expressed concerns about the reports, and said the reports must be thoroughly investigated.
Asked if he doubted the reports’ veracity, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had been briefed Monday, said, “No. I know a number of people in the intelligence community do.”
And Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee who also was briefed, said that if a nation was “putting a bounty” on U.S. soldiers’ heads that “we should leave no stone unturned.”
Meanwhile, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, speaking to reporters after a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, called Trump’s actions a “dereliction of duty” if the reports were accurate.
“If these allegations are true and he did nothing about any of this, then in fact I think the public should, unrelated to my running, conclude that this man is unfit to be president of the United States of America,” Biden said.