President Trump has stated loud and clear that the explosive New York Times article published over the weekend claiming he was briefed on Russia paying the Taliban bounties for killing Americans is fake news. The White House and his administration has doubled down on President Trump’s statement, and are pointing to the reporting as another example of creating a Russia hoax. The White House briefed members of Congress on the intelligence, all of whom left the meeting and said the intelligence was not verifiable. Senator Ernst and Senator Johnson, in particular, said the media reports were not true. Now, there is a question on what to do next, and whether the Senate should slap more sanctions on Russia.
Senator Mitch McConnell said that because the information is not verifiable, he cannot confirm Russia paid bounties. He continued, “Would I be surprised if the Russians were doing something like this? Absolutely not. They’re trying to create a problem for us everywhere.” The lead figure in the Senate, however, did not say if he would support additional sanctions on the country. Another member of leadership for the majority, Senator John Thune, was also on the fence on whether the relevant committees should issue more sanctions. He said, “I don’t think there’s any lack of appetite to put sanctions on Russia for all their malign activities. But whether that’s something that gets floor time this year is an open question.” Senator Inhofe, who is in charge of the defense bill, does not want to add language addressing the alleged Russian bounties.
The Democrats, in contrast, have immediately grasped onto the reports, and are once again painting the narrative that President Trump is under the influence of President Putin. Schumer said if the reports are verified, the Senate must take quick action. He also drew the Russia connection, stating, “But unlike every previous administration I’ve ever worked with, the Trump administration has been shockingly weak-kneed when it comes to authoritarian leaders like Putin.”