Amid uncertainty about the intelligence, Democrats have continued to press for investigations and even Russian sanctions, as they criticize the Trump administration’s response to the matter.
“Two New Yorkers were killed in an attack potentially tied to the Russian bounty program,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “Yet the Trump administration has continued to try and hide the details of the bounty program from the America people, denying these families the clarity they deserve. I will keep working to ensure an investigation is completed and the affected families get answers.”
She said an investigation should be completed by an independent government watchdog, an inspector general.
House Intelligence Committee member, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who received a White House briefing on the bounties, declined an interview to discuss McKenzie’s comments Tuesday. But after the NBC report published, her campaign called on her challenger Democrat Tedra Cobb to remove from the air a television advertisement that criticizes Stefanik for her “silence” on the issue.
“As the chief advocate for Fort Drum, Congresswoman Stefanik has always prioritized force protection and the safety and security of our servicemen and women and will continue to do so,” said Stefanik spokeswoman Maddie Anderson. “Tedra Cobb’s campaign ad claiming Russian bounties is not only false, it is shameful and smears our military leaders in Afghanistan by ignoring the facts as well as their military and intelligence assessments.”
Cobb’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Despite McKenzie’s statements casting doubt on the allegations, the campaign issued a news release Tuesday saying Stefanik “remains silent on Russian bounties against American soldiers” with a link to a New York Times story.
In late June, multiple media reports, citing intelligence, revealed the allegations that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops. Their efforts were believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, the Washington Post reported. The New York Times reported President Donald Trump was briefed on the matter and senior White House and intelligence officials knew about the bounty offers since at least March but took no action. The Times also reported that Russia’s military intelligence agency transferred money to accounts used by the Taliban in the alleged scheme.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany in June said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were never briefed on the intelligence information because “there is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations.” She said the veracity of the reports are being vetted and Trump was not briefed on unverified information. Trump tweeted that he was not briefed on the information and suggested it was “Fake News.”
Cpl. Robert Hendriks of Long Island and Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman of New York City, were among three Marines who died in 2019 in an attack that officials have investigated for a possible relation to a bounty that was paid, according to the New York Times.
In July, after Trump said he had not raised the subject of bounties in multiple phone calls with Putin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before Congress that he and other U.S. officials had discussed with Russians the threats against U.S. forces in various countries, but would not specifically say whether Afghanistan was on that list. He said Trump’s is “the toughest administration ever” on Russia and noted steps to address Russian disinformation and aggression in Ukraine and Georgia.
Last week, five Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation that would require Trump to place sanctions on any person, Russian government official or entity involved in alleged bounties. It would provide rewards for individuals who share information on Russian bounties and increase resources to counter Russia in South and Central Asia. Gillibrand said she co-sponsored the bill.
Congressional Republicans already rejected an amendment to the annual defense bill that would impose new sanctions on Russia this summer.