Speed Reads

russia bounty scandal

Trump's best-case explanation on the Russian bounties intelligence is still pretty bad

As multiple news organizations flesh out the details of the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia offered and likely paid bounties to Taliban-linked fighters for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, President Trump and the White House have maintained that Trump never got a briefing on the intelligence. The White House has carefully not denied reports that this intelligence was detailed in at least one President's Daily Brief, the written roundup of essential classified news provided by U.S. intelligence agencies, leaving open the possibility Trump was sent the explosive information but didn't read it.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck proposes that is, politically, Trump's best bad option.

Joe Scarborough called Trump's professed ignorance an outright lie on Tuesday's Morning Joe.

New York's Jonathan Chait explores the possibility that Trump's intelligence briefers counted on him not reading the PDB and tiptoed around the Russia bounties "because experience has taught them not to broach the topic of Russian misconduct with the boss." That's not great for Trump either, he said. "If his sensitivity is so acute that they could not even bring up a scheme to finance attacks on the American military — a literal act of war — then the effect is tantamount to the worst-case scenario."

David Ignatius at The Washington Post finds that scenario pretty plausible, arguing that Trump's more troublesome ignorance regards the "basic truth" that Russian President Vladimir Putin "is in the payback business" and especially "likes the United States to feel pain, in Afghanistan and everywhere else" — but especially Afghanistan, where CIA support for Islamist insurgents helped bring down the Soviet Union.

Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson Jr. publicly disclosed that Russia was arming and funding the Taliban back in March 2018, Ignatius writes. But "Trump didn't press the Russians to stop, and so they continued." He has continued his steady "buzz of happy talk about improving relations with Putin" ever since, Ignatius added, so "either people don't tell him the truth, or he doesn't want to hear it. Whichever way, he's defaulting on his most basic responsibility as commander in chief."