CIA Director Gina Haspel led a slate of intelligence officials to the U.S. Capitol Thursday to brief a select group of lawmakers on reports Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan.
Following a briefing for the so-called “Gang of Eight” — party leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — Pelosi said President Donald Trump “should have been verbally briefed” on the intelligence.
“I thought that before the hearing and has nothing to do with anything that we were presented at the hearing,” Pelosi, D-Calif, said. “Of course, the president should have been briefed. This is of the highest priority. Force protection, a threat to our men and women in uniform.”
“The president, it was in his PDB, presidential daily brief, but it wasn’t verbally,” she asserted. “That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t have read that. But again it has nothing to do with we saw today.”
Pelosi did not make clear how she could definitively say that the bounty intelligence made it into the written presidential daily brief. A Pelosi spokesman later said that the speaker’s claim that the intel made it into the written daily brief “was referencing news reports.”
While the White House claims intelligence about the bounty reports was not fully verified by the U.S., a military official confirmed to ABC News on Sunday that Russian intelligence officers offered to pay Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan over the past year, amid peace talks to end the 18-year war there.
Trump has continued to call news reports about the bounties a “hoax.”
U.S. intelligence agencies linked the effort to a Russian intelligence unit suspected of covert action and assassination attempts in Europe, according to The New York Times, which first reported the intelligence findings said to have been presented to Trump in March.
The president and vice president have both denied that they were briefed on the matter.
Pelosi, who indicated that congressional leaders were not briefed on the matter, continued to blast Trump’s desire to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin back into the G-8.
“It was of a consequential level that the intelligence community should have brought it to us in that way. But what is important is president’s relationship with Russia,” Pelosi said. “At the same time as the White House was aware of this threat to the security of our men and women in uniform, the President was still flirting with the idea of having Russia be part of the G8, in total opposition to the wishes of the other members of the G-8.”
Last year, 23 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, but whether any were targeted by Taliban fighters paid by Russian operatives isn’t known, the military official told ABC News. The official didn’t know whether Trump was briefed but said other senior U.S. officials learned of the Russian operation “months ago.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and General Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, also joined Haspel for the briefing, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Pelosi also her call to expand sanctions against Russia, including against Russian intelligence and the defense sectors.
“We have to restore those,” she told reporters at a news conference in the Capitol Thursday afternoon. “Whatever else happens with this, we must restore all those sanctions and we must act upon them.”
Several lawmakers from both parties attended briefings earlier this week at the White House, although Pelosi and Schumer have continued to press the administration to conduct briefings for the entire congressional membership.
Democrats characterized the White House briefing Tuesday as inadequate, calling on the administration to provide “direct evidence and discussion from intelligence community into how credible they assess the information.” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the intelligence a “red flag” and said the American people must understand whether the United States’ relationship with Russia is “compromised by the relationship between the president and Mr. Putin.”
ABC News’ James Gordon Meek and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.
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