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White House Dismisses Reports of Bounties, but Is Silent on Russia

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White House Dismisses Reports of Bounties, but Is Silent on Russia

Like other officials, including the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has criticized The New York Times and other outlets for reporting on the matter, and the president himself, Mr. O’Brien did not even raise the issue of Russian behavior, including what officials believed to be its longtime support for the Taliban. Nor did he suggest how the United States might respond if Mr. Trump accepted the intelligence as accurate.

The Times has reported that investigators are said to be focused on at least two attacks on American troops in Afghanistan, including one bombing and a firefight in April 2019 near Bagram Air Base that killed three Marines.

Mr. O’Brien was among several senior Trump officials at a White House briefing on Tuesday for House Democrats, which lawmakers complained was hampered by the absence of any intelligence professionals who could walk them through the nuances of the competing strands of intelligence.

“They just wanted to make sure that we knew that the president didn’t know anything,” said Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who attended the meeting. “I cannot recall under Bush, Obama, Clinton, them wanting to come out and say, ‘Look, the president didn’t know anything.’”

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, did most of the talking in the nearly two-hour session. But Mr. Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman, did not seem to understand the nuances of intelligence and so could not clearly explain some of the more complicated issues that lawmakers raised, according to people briefed on the meeting.

The director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, repeatedly told lawmakers the events in question happened well before he took over his post in late May from the former acting director, Richard Grenell.

The lawmakers, including Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former C.I.A. officer, pushed back and asked why, after the assessment was included in the President’s Daily Brief in late February, Mr. Trump was not given a heads-up before any of the five or six phone calls he subsequently had with Mr. Putin, including one call in which Mr. Trump invited the Russian leader to a Group of 7 meeting.

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