Trump, top officials defend response to Russia bounty threat

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    Washington (AP): Criticized for inaction, President Donald Trump and top officials stepped up their defence of the administration’s response to intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Trump’s national security adviser said he had prepared a list of retaliatory options if the intelligence proved true.
    Trump, meanwhile, called the assessments a “hoax’’ and insisted anew he hadn’t been briefed on them because the intelligence didn’t rise to his level. However, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the CIA and the Pentagon pursued the leads and briefed international allies.
    “We had options ready to go,’’ O’Brien said Wednesday on Fox News Channel. “It may be impossible to get to the bottom of it.’’
    At a State Department news conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation was handled “incredibly well’’ to ensure the safety of U.S. troops.
    “We took this seriously, we handled it appropriately,’’ Pompeo said, without giving additional details. He said the administration receives intelligence about threats to Americans “every single day’’ and each is addressed.
    Pompeo added that Russian activity in Afghanistan is nothing new and that Russia is just one of many nations acting there. He said that Congress has had similar information in the past and that he often receives threat assessments that don’t rise to the level of a presidential briefing.
    Trump is coming under increasing pressure from lawmakers of both parties to provide more answers about the intelligence and the U.S. response or lack of one. Democrats who were briefed at the White House on Tuesday suggested he was bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the risk of U.S. soldiers’ lives.
    The Republican president has repeatedly said he wasn’t briefed on the assessments that Russia offered bounties because there wasn’t corroborating evidence. Those assessments were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.
    White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany pointed to an individual who she said made the decision not to brief Trump, identifying the person as a female CIA officer with more than 30 years of experience. O’Brien said the person was a “career CIA briefer.’’
    “The national security adviser agreed with that decision,’’ McEnany said. “It was the right decision to make, and at this moment as I speak to you it is still unverified.’’

    By Mary Clare Jalonick,
    Matthew Lee and James Laporta