WASHINGTON The White House and top National Security Council officials learned about intelligence indicating Russia was offering bounties on U.S. and coalition troops in early 2019, a person with direct knowledge of the intelligence confirms to NBC News, well over a year before President Trump claimed no one had briefed him about the matter.
That intelligence, which the Trump administration has yet to act on, was out there at least a month before an April 2019 car bomb attack in Afghanistan that killed three U.S. Marines, the individual said. That attack has come under scrutiny as U.S. officials seek to determine whether any Americans died as a result of the Russian plot.
Two senior administration officials told NBC News on Monday that the White House does not believe there is a link between the deaths of three marines in April 2019 and Russias offer to pay bounties. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told NBC News that top officials told lawmakers in the Situation Room on Monday that no one had been killed as a result of Russias bounty offer. But other U.S. officials have said its unclear or that the Russian effort may indeed have led to deaths.
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The Associated Press first reported late Monday that the White House was aware of the intelligence in early 2019, and added that John Bolton, Trumps national security adviser at the time, told colleagues he briefed Trump about the intelligence in March 2019.
NBC News has not confirmed whether Bolton briefed Trump on the matter. The former national security adviser declined to comment Tuesday, citing classification issues, when asked in multiple interviews promoting his book about the presidents handling of national security matters during his 17 months in the White House.
The revelation that the White House learned of the intelligence well over a year ago comes as the Trump administration seeks to distance the president from the explosive allegation by insisting he was never briefed on it because it hadnt been fully verified by the intelligence community.
In a series of public statements issued in quick succession late Monday, the Pentagon said it has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations, while National Security Adviser Robert OBrien said that because those allegations have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items.
CIA Director Gina Haspel echoed those sentiments and downplayed the alleged attempt by a U.S. adversary to harm U.S. troops as a constant, longstanding concern.
Both Haspel and OBrien sought to refocus the conversation on the risk to U.S. national security they warned could result from the unauthorized disclosure of U.S. intelligence, which first emerged late last week in a New York Times report, triggering immediate alarm and demands for more information from lawmakers of both parties.
The April 2019 attack under scrutiny for potential ties to Russian bounty offers occurred near Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield and killed three U.S. Marines, including a New York firefighter, when a roadside car bomb struck a U.S. convoy. At the time, there was significant confusion over the events that unfolded, with U.S. officials originally saying an Afghan citizen who contracted for the U.S. had also been killed. He was later found injured but alive.