Democrats seek answers on Trump response to Russia-Taliban claims

Democrats have asked US intelligence chiefs to brief Congress on why Donald Trump took no action following claims that Russian operatives offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked Gina Haspel, CIA director, and John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, to explain the claim, reported by The New York Times.

“The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” Ms Pelosi said. “The president’s refusal to stand up to the Russians also jeopardises lives in the region.”

The White House has not denied that some intelligence suggests Russia is targeting US troops, but Mr Trump said he was not briefed on the issue.

“Was the president briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed?” Ms Pelosi asked. “Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”

Later on Monday, Ms Pelosi said she had spoken with Ms Haspel and Mr Ratcliffe but still wanted them to provide a full briefing for all lawmakers.

Mr Trump has pushed back against the article, describing it as “possibly another Russia hoax”. He said his officials told him that he was not briefed because “they did not find this info credible”. Experts have asked why he would not be briefed on accusations related to the safety of US troops, particularly amid reports that the US shared the intelligence with the UK.

In a statement on Monday evening, Ms Haspel said “initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation”. She added that information about protecting troops was often shared first with members of the national security community, including American allies.

The claims in the New York Times story raised concerns that Mr Trump was willing his punches when it came to Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Mr Trump has come under constant scrutiny over his stance on Russia. He stunned his own team in 2018 when he said at a press conference with Mr Putin in Helsinki that he had no reason to doubt the Russian president’s denial that the Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

A few Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Liz Cheney, a member of the House Republican leadership, have joined Democrats in calling for answers from the White House.

Ms Cheney tweeted that if The New York Times report was true, the White House must explain why Mr Trump was not briefed and “what has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”.

A senior official said Mr Trump was not briefed on the issue because “there is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations”.

Richard Grenell, the former US ambassador to Germany who served as acting director of national intelligence this year, has denied any knowledge.

“I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicise intelligence,” Mr Grenell responded to one Democratic lawmaker, who asked why he had not briefed Mr Trump.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi