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White House briefs ‘Gang of 8’ on Russia-Taliban bounty intel


WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders in the so-called Gang of Eight were tight-lipped Thursday after receiving a classified briefing on the Russia-Taliban bounty intelligence fiasco — but Democrats used the opportunity to bash President Trump anyway.

“I’m not going to say anything about the briefing, but I believe that the president is not close to tough enough on Vladimir Putin,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters after he emerged from the Capitol Hill meeting.

The briefing of the group of eight senior Democratic and Republican members of Congress who receive regular intelligence briefings from the White House comes after the New York Times last week reported that the Kremlin paid Taliban militants bounties to kill US troops in a bid to drive them out of Afghanistan.

The White House has denied allegations from the Times and the Associated Press that Trump was briefed on the matter months ago, arguing the intelligence was deemed not credible and for that reason was never brought to the president or vice president’s attention.

Speaking at a press conference after the briefing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) floated the idea of sanctions against Russia and said the president and Congress should have been briefed on what she called “consequential” intelligence.

“This is of the highest priority, force protection, a threat to our men and women in uniform,” Pelosi said, before claiming that the intelligence was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a daily summary of high-level national security issues.

“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 of the members of the G8,” she continued.

Russia and the Taliban have denied the allegations contained in the Times report.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and national security adviser Robert O’Brien have both maintained that rogue intelligence officers looking to damage the Trump administration leaked the information to the Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended the handling of the intelligence by the nation’s spy agencies and questioned Democrats in Congress who said they were “shocked and appalled” by the allegations.

“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” Pompeo said.

“So members of Congress are out there today suggesting that they are shocked and appalled by this, they saw the same intelligence that we saw,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair and ranking member of the House Intel Committee, also left the meeting without saying anything.

In a joint statement after the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi again accused Trump of being “soft” on the Russian president without providing any further details.

“Force protection is a primary purpose of intelligence. It should have the same importance to the commander in chief. Any reports of threats on our troops must be pursued relentlessly,” Pelosi and Schumer said.

“These reports are coming to light in the context of the president being soft on Vladimir Putin when it comes to NATO, the G7, Crimea, Ukraine and the ongoing undermining of the integrity of our elections,” they added.

“Our armed forces would be better served if President Trump spent more time reading his daily briefing and less time planning military parades and defending relics of the Confederacy.”

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