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GOP Top Officials Cast Doubt Over Unproven 'Russian Bounties' as Dems Attack Trump

© REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNSTU.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) speaks to reporters as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) speaks to reporters as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020 - Sputnik International
Allegations without proof made by The New York Times in a Friday report, that Russia offered a reward to Taliban-linked militants for each US soldier killed, have caused waves in both parties, as Republicans point to a lack of evidence and credibility for the claims while Democrats weaponize the accusations against US President Donald Trump.

Several top GOP Senators have expressed skepticism for media claims that Russia offered Taliban militants bounties for assassinating US troops, outlining that the allegations lack accuracy. Senator Joni Ernst, speaking to reporters on Tuesday after a Republican briefing in the White House on the "bounties", called the reports "absolutely inaccurate".

“I think that reporting was absolutely inaccurate. I had a briefing this morning and I know that the evidence is not corroborated. We take threats seriously. At the tactical level, obviously making sure our positions are hardened and we’re watching out for adversaries", the Senator said. 

She suggested that Democrats are exaggerating and "politicizing" the matter.

“The Democrats are really making a big deal of this. They had access to that same sort of information months ago,” Ernst said.

Her comments were echoed by Acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, who noted that media reports on classified information are "often inaccurate", but chose not to blame reporters or elaborate on his opinion.

“I think almost every report on purported intelligence information is inaccurate, not because reporters are wrong but because it misunderstands the purpose of intelligence products. There’s a big difference between analysis and raw intelligence and it’s a point that I think is often missed,” he added.

Senator Todd Young was less indulgent in commenting on the claims, insisting that media reports had relied on "unverified and inconclusive" intelligence, as Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe assured reporters on Capitol Hill that he is convinced that Trump was not informed about the alleged bounties.

Democrats Attacking Trump Over Bounties Claims

Some Democrats have continued to attack Trump over the unproven claims after their own briefing on the situation, slamming the president and his administration for "not calling out Putin". They also lashed out at the briefing itself, saying that "the right people" to conduct it were not in the room, apparently dissatisfied with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Trump's National Security adviser, Robert O'Brien, and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe. 

"It makes no sense whatsoever for the president and the administration not to call out Putin. I don't understand what it is with the president's infatuation with Putin", House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said at the press conference.

Despite repeated denials by the Trump administration that POTUS was briefed on the unverified intelligence, Democrat officials continue to insist that the president was provided with the potentially damning information earlier. 

Ignoring a lack of proofs or evidence on the matter, several top Democratic officials, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, criticized Trump for knowing of the reports and "doing nothing". US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi revealed that she was not informed on the matter, demanding an "interagency brief for all House members", where "options to hold Russia accountable" could be evaluated.

The Democratic House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, demanded additional sanctions against Russia over the reports, and several lawmakers asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon Chief Mark Esper to testify before the Senate.

Media Claims So Far, Reactions

After "breaking the news" on the alleged Russian bounties on Friday, The New York Times released several more reports, claiming that Trump received written briefings on the matter in February, sticking to the tradition of citing unnamed sources.

Recent reports claim that financial transfer data shows a "likelihood" of Russia offering money to Taliban-linked militants for targeting American soldiers. Unnamed officials allegedly tracked "large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account". 

No media report on the subject has been officially confirmed, resulting in uncertainty or direct denial from all sides. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the allegations as "nonsense" and the White House and the Trump administration denied that the president was briefed, noting that the claims have not been satisfactorily verified, and the Department of Defence finding "no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations".

The Taliban itself has refuted the claims, asserting that its activities have no connection with foreign countries or intelligence agencies.

According to the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, Nytimes.com has not reached out to the Russian embassy for comment.

Reacting to a wave of allegations, National Intelligence assured that the investigation on the matter is still ongoing, outlining that the work is disrupted by leaking of classified information. 

During Tuesday's White House press conference, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denounced the allegations for "undermining our nation's security and safety" while seeking to "undermine this president". 

"You may seek to undermine this president, but in fact you undermine our nation's security and safety. These are rogue intelligence officers who are imperiling our troops' lives", McEnany stated during the conference.

She also noted that Trump was briefed on Tuesday on "what's unfortunately in the public domain" and is "prepared to act" against Russia in the event that the allegations are proved true.

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