President Donald Trump said that he has “never” addressed an intelligence finding that Russian operatives bribed Taliban-linked militias to kill American and coalition troops in Afghanistan during his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” Tuesday of his conversation with Putin last week. The full interview is scheduled to air on August 3.
The comments mark a shift from a murkier tone taken by the President on Monday, when Trump appeared to avoid clearly stating whether he had broached the topic of the alleged scheme with the Russian leader.
“We don’t talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion,” Trump said at that time.
Trump has previously denied being briefed on the matter and also questioned the veracity of the intelligence, tweeting last month that the Times report resembled “possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax.”
Trump’s apparent unwillingness to discuss the alleged bounties reinforces concerns voiced by Democrats after news of the scheme broke last month. Many top Democrats rebuked the President for failing to address a matter that put the lives of American troops at stake. In June, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) said that Trump’s sworn ignorance about the bounties was inexcusable, adding that Trump’s “affinity” for the Russian president poses a national security threat.
“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,” Schiff said in a press conference after a White House briefing on the issue. “Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our nation ill.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also decried the President’s inaction on the bribery scheme last month, saying, “I don’t know what the Russians have on the president, politically, personally, or financially.”