President Trump did not confront Russian President Vladimir Putin about intelligence community reports that Moscow paid the Taliban bounties for US soldiers, he confirmed in an interview.
Speaking with Axios on Tuesday, the commander-in-chief made the claim after being asked if the issue was raised during his July 23 call with the Russian leader.
“No, that was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” he told the outlet.
Trump said his discussion with Putin covered the issue of nuclear proliferation, “which is a very big subject where they would like to do something and so would I,” as well as “numerous” other topics.
The issue of Russia paying the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, however, did not come up.
The reason, Trump argued, was that the intelligence itself was questionable.
“[The intelligence] never reached my desk, you know why? Because they didn’t think…it was real, they didn’t think it was worthy,” he said, “If it reached my desk, I would’ve done something about it. It never reached my desk.”
The outlet pressed him further on the issue of the presidential daily brief, specifically whether he was diligent about reading it daily.
The commander in chief said that “yes,” he did read his briefings daily, before adding that he reads a lot and spends a lot of time at meetings.
“I have so many briefings on so many different countries, but this one didn’t reach my desk,” he said.
After pressing the president on whether he “believes the intelligence,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan conceded there “is dispute, no doubt, there is dispute in the intelligence community” about the claim.
Trump denied being shown any intelligence on Russian bounties following the original New York Times report in late-June alleging that Russia was involved in the covert operations.
The White House and the commander-in-chief have denied the report on multiple occasions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also defended the Trump administration’s handling of the situation, saying US spy agencies responded “incredibly well” to the intelligence despite Russia’s behavior being “nothing new.”
The nation’s top diplomat has declined to flatly confirm or deny the reports on the alleged bounty, however.
“We took this seriously, we handled it appropriately. The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We’ve objected to it,” he said at a press conference last week. “When I meet with my Russian counterparts, I talk with them about this each time. ‘Stop this.’”
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