President Donald Trump said that U.S. intelligence officials had “just” told him there was no credible information suggesting Russian intelligence had offered to pay bounties to Taliban militants who killed American soldiers.
Because of this, intelligence officials had not initially reported the allegations to him or Vice President Mike Pence, Trump wrote in a tweet late Sunday.
Three people briefed on the matter told NBC News that the United States had gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officers had offered to pay the bounties. NBC News has not confirmed that the U.S. verified that any such bounty payments were made.
In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a senior figure inside the Kremlin, denied Russian intelligence officers had offered these bounties.
“You know, maybe I can say it’s a little bit rude but this is 100 percent bulls—,” Peskov said when asked about the U.S. intelligence. “It’s an undiplomatic thing, but it’s bulls—.”
On whether any officials in the U.S. had raised the subject with their Russian counterparts, Peskov said, “As far as I’m concerned none of the American representatives have ever raised this question” with their Russian counterparts through government or diplomatic channels.
Peskov also said that he was unaware of any conversations between the U.S. and Russian militaries because “they have their own dialogue system” that contained “restricted information.”
For more on this interview watch NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.
NBC News’ sources were not able to make it clear how persuasive the intelligence is. A source told the Times that the assessment was based in part on interviews with Afghan detainees. That alone would not prove the case, but the U.S. would almost certainly have tried to get communications intercepts from the Russians that shed light. In the past, the National Security Agency has had success penetrating Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU.
Earlier, Trump tweeted that “nobody briefed or told me,” Vice President Mike Pence or White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the intelligence. He called for the Times to “reveal” its sourcing.
Late Saturday, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe also denied Trump had been briefed.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said in a statement Saturday that the president and other top officials were not “briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday the president “wants to ignore any allegation against Russia” by denying knowledge of the intelligence.
“The president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” she said. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and our allies — some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan — had been briefed and accept this report.”
The intelligence had been shared with congressional leaders and the British government, according to NBC News sources.
The president’s latest comments followed a call by Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for Congress to “get to the bottom” of the reports.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is on the Armed Services military personnel subcommittee, also called for a joint congressional investigation in a statement Sunday.
A senior administration official told NBC News on Monday some members of Congress will be briefed at the White House on the Russia matter.
An intelligence official said the report is not particularly surprising given the fraught history between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. armed Afghan fighters with missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was fighting in Afghanistan, part of a CIA covert action that killed many Russians. In 2018, U.S. forces killed a number of Russian mercenaries who were operating with pro-regime forces in Syria.
Kelly O’Donnell, Matthew Bodner , Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker contributed.