Speed Reads

2020 ad war

The Lincoln Project's brutal new ad doesn't buy Trump's denial on Russia's U.S. troop bounties

A clandestine unit of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency paid cash bounties to Afghan militants linked to the Taliban for killing U.S. and allied troops in the country, The New York Times reported Friday, adding that Trump was briefed on the Russian operation in March. The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Associated Press confirmed the classified intelligence assessment on Saturday, and the Post and the Times reported Sunday that U.S. officials believe the bounties resulted in U.S. service members being killed.

The White House reportedly considered several responses but has taken no action — in fact, Trump has since invited Russia back into the G-7 and announced a drawdown of U.S. forces in Germany, both actions welcome in Moscow. The White House said Trump was not briefed on the intelligence assessment — which raised questions of its own — and Trump elaborated in tweet Sunday night, claiming "intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me" or Vice President Mike Pence.

Among those who do not believe Trump has refrained from acting because he was kept in the dark is the anti-Trump Republican group the Lincoln Project, which churned out another brutal ad on Saturday. "When Trump tells you he stands by the troops, he's right — just not our troops," the ad concludes.

The fact that the Russian bounty operation was reported in all major national newspapers "doesn't mean it's certainly true," David Frum noted. "But it does mean that very credible people in U.S. intelligence service are angry and alarmed. Angry and alarmed enough to provide evidence to three leading media sources." It's possible, he conceded, that Trump and other officials "are telling a version of the truth — that the information was withheld from Trump by briefers who have learned not to upset him" with negative intelligence on Russia.