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Ex-advisers: President needs to be told even if intel isn't fully verified

Then-national security adviser John Bolton in the Oval

Then-national security adviser John Bolton in the Oval Office in July 2019. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

Two former national security advisers, commenting on reports that Russia offered Taliban-linked militants cash to kill American troops in Afghanistan, pushed back Sunday on the White House's claim that the president should be presented with only fully verified intelligence.

After The New York Times reported last month on the bounty, President Donald Trump tweeted that "nobody briefed or told me" about the bounty intel. He has since described the reports as "fake news."

The current national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said on Fox News on Wednesday that an officer who briefs the president in person every few days decided not to tell Trump about that intel because it was "uncorroborated."

Asked why Trump was not briefed, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said last Monday there "was not a consensus among the intelligence community. And, in fact, there were dissenting opinions within the intelligence community, and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified."

Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" that "it's important for people to understand: Intelligence doesn't come in only two qualities, the fully verified intelligence and then the unverified intelligence. ... The notion that you only give the really completely 100% verified intelligence to the president would mean you give him almost nothing."

Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that she doesn't "buy this story that he was never briefed."

She continued, "I believe that over a year ago, when the information first came to light in 2019, that my successor John Bolton, would have walked straight into the Oval Office as I would have, and informed the president of this intelligence. You don't wait until you have 100% certainty. You tell the commander in chief what he needs to know when he needs to know it."

Bolton, whose new book is a highly critical tell-all about Trump, became national security adviser in April 2018 and left in September 2019.

He declined to directly respond to Rice's comments later Sunday, telling CBS' Margaret Brennan: "I'm not going to disclose classified information," and "I'm not going to comment on what I knew or didn't know out of the intelligence."

But he said of the bounty intel: "That's the kind of thing you need to have in the president's view so that he can think about it as he develops, well, at least as normal presidents develop strategy to handle Russia, to handle Afghanistan."

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