August 5, 2020 – President Trump in recent days has repeatedlylabeled as “fake news” and “a hoax” swirling allegations that Moscow placed bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. But his words — which echo the Kremlin’s propaganda — ring characteristically hollow. That’s because numerous reports have now confirmed that Trump — who vowed “to always protect our great warfighters” — has known about Russia’s bounty campaign for months, doing nothing to stop it while publicly praising Vladimir Putin, lauding the state of U.S.-Russia relations, and organizing photo-ops with troops at West Point and at military bases around the country.
The following is a timeline of what we’ve learned so far about the Trump administration’s deliberate effort to downplay and, at times, simply ignore intelligence of Russia’s bounty program:
February 2019: The White House receives preliminary intelligence recovered from Afghan militants suggesting that Russia is offering bounties for every slain U.S. soldier. The intelligence is briefly discussed by members of the National Security Council, who then task U.S. Central Command to investigate further.
February 2019: White House officials include the preliminary intelligence about the bounty program in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). White House officials “with direct knowledge of the intelligence” later told the Associated Press that in the following month, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton informed NSC staff that he briefed the President on the issue.
January 2020: SEAL Team 6 conducts a raid in Afghanistan, uncovering $500,000 in cash at a Taliban site, leading American intelligence officials to further suspect that Russia is providing direct financial support to various Taliban militias in their fight against U.S. and Coalition forces.
Late January/Early February 2020: Afghanistan’s national intelligence service raids the home and affiliated offices of Rahmatullah Azizi, the suspected middleman between the Taliban and Russian government. U.S. intelligence officials believe Azizi was using a complex network of international wire transfers to route as much as $100,000 per slain American soldier to Taliban militias. It is believed that Azizi has since fled to Russia for protection.
February 2020: Information about the Russian bounty program once again makes its way to the National Security Council after new intelligence emerges from the interrogation of detainees in Afghanistan.
February 2020: Defense Secretary Mark Esper receives an intelligence briefing about Russian payments to the Taliban.
February 27, 2020: President Trump is provided information about the Russian bounty program again in his PDB.
March 2020: The White House holds a restricted, high-level meeting on the Russian bounty program. The CIA is tasked with assessing its credibility and ultimately concludes that the information is credible. One official later told the Washington Post the intelligence presented at the meeting “left little doubt among those examining it that Russia was targeting American forces.”
Late March/Early April 2020: Trump is again provided information on the Russian bounty program via the PDB. Multiple sources confirmed to the New York Times that intelligence about the bounty program was placed in Trump’s PDB but that the President “rarely, if ever, reads it.”
May 2020: A converted version of the intelligence about the Russian bounty program is distributed in the WIRe, the CIA’s flagship analytic product distributed to appropriately cleared officials in other government agencies and within Congress.
May 8, 2020: Trump praises Putin during a meeting with Republican members of Congress, claiming: “We had no calls from Russia for years. And all of a sudden, we have this great friendship. And, by the way, getting along with Russia is a great thing, getting along with Putin and Russia is a great thing.”
May 30, 2020: Trump calls for Russia to be admitted to a reconstituted G8 and invites Putin to Camp David in September. The invitation causes an immediate backlash from the UK and Germany, which oppose the gesture in light of Russia’s unchanged behavior since its expulsion from the group in 2014. It was not the first year that Trump had called for Russia to join the G7 — nor the first time his call was soundly rejected by our allies.
Late June: NATO officials in Brussels are briefed on intelligence surrounding the Russian bounty program. Three NATO officials later tell Business Insider that they were provided evidence of Russia offering cash bounties for U.S. casualties in Afghanistan.
June 27, 2020: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denies that President Trump or Vice President Pence knew about the bounty program, telling reporters: “The CIA Director, National Security Adviser, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President was briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.” She went on to tell reporters “there was no consensus within the intelligence community” about the veracity of the reports.
June 28, 2020: Trump personally denies receiving intelligence about the bounty program via Twitter: “Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us…Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump administration.”
June 30, 2020: British Defense Minister Ben Wallace confirms the UK had also received intelligence on the Russian bounty program, stating that his Ministry had taken actions to protect British service members ahead of time.
June 30, 2020: The New York Times, citing U.S. intelligence officials, reports that the Intelligence Community intercepted financial data confirming numerous wire transfers between the Russian government and Taliban militias. The intelligence was relayed to the highest levels of the White House staff.
July 9, 2020: During a House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley both admit they had received intelligence briefings in February about Russian payments to the Taliban.
July 12, 2020: A former top CIA official confirms in a New York Times op-ed that Trump was aware of Russia’s financial support to the Taliban, and that he had been briefed on the subject.
July 23, 2020: Trump takes part in a phone call with Vladimir Putin but refuses to bring up the bounty program. He later tells Axios’ Jonathan Swan that the “phone call [was] to discuss other things, and frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news….”
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