National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Tuesday that a career intelligence official made the ultimate decision not to brief President Donald Trump on information regarding possible Russian payments to Taliban fighters to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In an interview on “Fox & Friends,” O’Brien also seemingly confirmed that the National Security Council was analyzing the intelligence, and had developed options for Trump in the event that the information could be verified.
O’Brien blasted government officials who leaked information about the intelligence to The New York Times, saying that the disclosure has stymied efforts to verify the intelligence. He also criticized the paper, accusing it of falsely reporting that Trump had been briefed on the intelligence but failed to act.
“When it comes to the briefing, that’s another false story,” O’Brien said.
“I’m somewhat surprised that The New York Times ran with the story. The president was not briefed because at the time of these allegations they were not corroborated.”
He said that Trump’s briefer, a career CIA officer, “decided not to brief him because it was unverified intelligence.”
“She’s an outstanding officer, and knowing all the facts I know, I certainly support her decision,” O’Brien said.
It is unclear if the briefer in question is Beth Sanner, a CIA analyst who has been reported to be Trump’s briefer. The National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
“Sadly, because of the leak it may now become impossible every to get to get to the bottom of this, to get to the truth of the matter,” O’Brien said.
“We were working very hard on this matter. It may be entirely impossible to get to the bottom of it, because somebody decided to leak to hurt the president rather than uphold their obligations to the American people.”
O’Brien did not dispute that the intelligence was in Trump’s Presidential Daily Briefing, a written compendium of intelligence that is circulated through the White House and intelligence agencies.
He said that the National Security Council was working through the interagency process to assess the intelligence about the Russian bounty program. The thinking was, “Look, if this eventually becomes proven or something that we believe, we need to have options for the president to deal with the Russians,” O’Brien said.
“If it turned out to be true, and we may never know, but if it turned out to be true we had options ready to go and the president was ready to take strong action as he always is.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday that the intelligence regarding the alleged Russian payments was uncorroborated.
The Times and other newspapers have reported that U.S. intelligence officials and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan developed the intelligence after interviewing captured Taliban fighters who claimed they were paid to kill American and Western troops. The Times reported Monday that U.S. intelligence agencies discovered evidence of wire payments from an account linked to the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, and Taliban-linked bank accounts.
The Russian government has long funded Taliban operations, but, according to The Times, the U.S. had other intelligence that the payments were related to a bounty program.
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