June 30 (UPI) — Large financial transfers between a Russian intelligence agency and a bank account linked to the Taliban were evidence of an alleged scheme in which Russia offered bounties to militants to kill U.S. soldiers, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.
Three officials told the newspaper that electronic data supported information Taliban detainees gave U.S. intelligence officials during interrogations. The information also was included in in President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefing in February, contradicting his claim Sunday that he’d never received a briefing about the alleged scheme.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday that Trump has now been briefed on the intelligence, but emphasized that there’s no certainty about the truthfulness of the information.
“The president has been briefed on what is unfortunately in the public domain because of The New York Times,” she said. “But that does not change the fact that there is no consensus on this intelligence that still has yet to be verified.”
The White House briefed members of Congress on the intelligence Monday, with Republicans accusing the Times of publishing unconfirmed intelligence during an ongoing investigation in order to smear the president.
Democrats, though, sought a briefing directly from intelligence officials, not through the White House.
“I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn’t come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russia is putting bounties on American troops and that he will do everything in his power to make sure that we protect American troops,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said.
The Times reported earlier this week about the scheme which targeted coalition forces, including U.S. troops. Officials said the findings were discussed by the White House’s National Security Council at an interagency meeting in late March and options such as making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow or strengthening sanctions were suggested.
Officials said they believed Islamist militants, or armed criminals associated, with them collected bounty payments.
The Times said Tuesday that investigators are evaluating whether an April 2019 bombing that killed three U.S. Marines was part of the alleged scheme.
The State Department said Tuesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke Monday with Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Baradar about peace negotiations in Afghanistan.
“The secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.