In all of his discussions with Vladimir Putin, the most recent of which was last week, President Trump has never brought up U.S. intelligence reports suggesting that Russia paid bounties for the murder of American troops in Afghanistan, he admitted in an interview with Axios on HBO.
“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump said before dismissing the intelligence as “fake news.”
In late June, the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence “concluded months ago” that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, paid bounties for the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan last year. The article said Trump was briefed on the information but hadn’t authorized any response.
The White House denied both angles of the story. Trump said he was never briefed on the subject, and the National Intelligence Council produced a memo calling the underlying assessment into question.
Trump returned to both of those points in the interview, insisting that the information never reached his desk and that the intelligence community “didn’t think it was real.” Reports have suggested that the information on the bounty program was included in Trump’s daily written brief, but the White House says he was never orally briefed on the subject. It has been widely reported that Trump doesn’t read his Daily Brief, though he disputed that too.
“I read it a lot,” he told Axios on HBO. “They like to say I don’t read. I comprehend extraordinarily well, probably better than anyone that you’ve interviewed in a long time.”
Reporter Jonathan Swan changed the subject slightly from Russia’s alleged bounty program to reports that it’s supplying weapons to the Taliban. “Isn’t that enough to challenge Putin over the killings of U.S. soldiers,” he asked.
Trump made excuses on Russia’s behalf, bringing up the U.S. supplying the mujahideen in the 1980s. “Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia, too,” he said, suggesting that since the U.S. supplied weapons to Russia’s enemies in Afghanistan 40 years ago, it’s excusable for Russia to supply weapons to U.S. enemies there now.