Some are calling it a last ditch attempt to keep Russiagate alive ahead of November. The New York Times on Friday said Russian intelligence officers have been offering Taliban militants cash rewards to kill American and British soldiers.
In the past two days the claims by the usual anonymous US intelligence officials have crisscrossed the mainstream media, with more "confirmation" offered by... more anonymous intelligence officials.
Of course Russia promptly denied it, but more importantly the White House vehemently rejected the report as "fake news" with the president and his aides saying they've never seen such intelligence crossing the president's desk.
Certainly something of this level, which hearkens back to the original 1980's proxy war between Moscow and Washington centered in Afghanistan (where it should be noted roles were reversed: the CIA spent years funding and weaponizing the jihadists, many of which would go on to make up today's Taliban), would have been a top national security priority, something presumably impossible to keep from the commander-in-chief.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Saturday in response to the Times story that neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence was ever briefed on such a brazen Russian intelligence plan to hand out bounties.
"This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of The New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter," she said.
And Trump himself confirmed as much, tweeting Sunday morning:
Nobody briefed or told me, VP Pence, or Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News NY Times.
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.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
And rounding things out the Taliban registered its denial as well, meaning that every major player in the NY Times story has now said the story is nonsense.
“We categorically reject the notion of ever planning or carrying out targeted attacks against US or foreign forces at the behest of foreign intelligence or for the sake of collecting bounty, and we also reject receiving material support,” a Taliban statement said.
Recall that the initial NYT report suggested the White House had indeed been briefed. Again it's unthinkable that an alleged Russian operation this explosive could be hidden from the commander-in-chief or top executive branch intel officials or National Security Council staff. The Times also assumes this when it said:
The officials familiar with the intelligence did not explain the White House delay in deciding how to respond to the intelligence about Russia.
While some of his closest advisers, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have counseled more hawkish policies toward Russia, Mr. Trump has adopted an accommodating stance toward Moscow.
And then there's this line, casting further doubt on the whole thing: "The intelligence assessment is said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals."
So we are left with anonymous officials casting a dubious tale of Russian targeting Americans in Afghanistan based on "interrogations" - likely involving torture or perhaps "enhanced" techniques - of militants and criminals.
Maddow spent 3+ years pushing ridiculous conspiracy theories about Putin controlling Trump and paranoid fantasies like Russia shutting off Americans' heat during winter. Incredible that it continues with no shame: https://t.co/wTQCYds9a9— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) June 28, 2020
Entirely to be expected, this was enough for some to eat it up.