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Democrats say they want to hear from intelligence agencies, not White House on bounties

Posted June 30, 2020 11:10 a.m. EDT

— A classified White House briefing Tuesday did little to satisfy House Democrats' demands for an explanation of intelligence that Russia offered the Taliban bounties, as Democrats expressed concerns that President Donald Trump's national security team appeared unwilling to brief the President with information he didn't want to hear.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer took a group of House Democrats to the White House for a briefing Tuesday morning, one day after House Republicans received a similar briefing following media reports that US intelligence showed Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters for killing US troops. Democrats said at a news conference after the briefing that they needed to hear directly from the intelligence agencies -- not the White House -- reiterating their call for a briefing to the full House.

Hoyer said that the briefing was "White House personnel telling us their perspective," and the lawmakers did not receive "any new substantive information."

"I think we knew the White House perspective. What we need to know is the intelligence perspective," Hoyer said.

The briefing for House Democrats comes amid a bipartisan push for the Trump administration to explain what intelligence it had about the Russian bounties for the Taliban to kill US troops -- and how Trump was briefed on the matter. CNN reported Monday that the intelligence was included in one of Trump's daily briefings on intelligence matters sometime in the spring.

House Democrats raised concerns that the intelligence briefers may not have told Trump about the matter, suggesting that the intelligence leaders may be hesitant to tell Trump what he doesn't want to hear, particularly related to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Democrats argued this was information Trump needed to know before speaking to Putin by phone -- and saying he wanted to invite Russia to this year's G7 meeting.

"There may be a reluctance to brief the President on things he doesn't want to hear. And that may be more true with respect to Putin and Putin's Russia than with respect to any other subject matter," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our country ill."

Hoyer did not answer directly whether the White House told lawmakers that the President was not briefed, saying that he "left the White House with the impression" and noting that Trump had said he was not briefed publicly. Schiff argued that it wasn't acceptable if it was only included in Trump's written materials.

"If a President doesn't read the briefs, it doesn't work to give him product and not tell him what's in it," Schiff said. "It's not a justification to say that the President should have read whatever materials he has. If the President doesn't read, he doesn't read. They should know that by now."

The White House said Monday that Trump was not briefed on the matter because the intelligence "wasn't verified." Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there was "dissent" within the intelligence community about the intelligence.

Pressed whether the intelligence was included in the President's Daily Brief, McEnany said only that Trump "was not personally briefed."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have both demanded the Trump administration provide briefings to the full House and Senate about the intelligence. Pelosi spoke by phone Monday with Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel to reiterate her call for a briefing.

"Many serious questions remain regarding what the White House is doing to address threats to American and allied troops and to hold Russia accountable," Pelosi said in a statement.

Hoyer said he made another push for a full-House briefing with top intelligence officials on Tuesday, but he said he was given no assurances that such a briefing would happen.

A group of House Republicans were briefed at the White House on Monday ahead of the Democratic briefing Tuesday morning. After that briefing, several of the Republicans said they remained concerned about Russian activity and additional briefings were needed, while one GOP lawmaker attacked the media for reporting on the intelligence while the investigation was ongoing.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN he had learned at the briefing that dissenting views among agencies within the intelligence community was the reason the intelligence was not briefed to Trump.

"While there was a stream of reporting on this alleged bounty issue, intelligence from one agency, there was another agency with a very strong dissenting view on this intelligence," McCaul said.

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