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N.J. Dem criticized after U.S. intelligence contradicts statements on Russian bounties

  • May 08, 2021

Rep. Tom Malinowski last fall endorsed intelligence reports claiming Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops.

“The bounties happened,” Malinowski said during a debate with state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union. “I’ve been briefed on all of that.”

But it turned out that the intelligence wasn’t so clear cut. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that there was just “low to moderate confidence” in those intelligence reports.

New Jersey Republicans hoping to oust Malinowski in November 2022 have gone after the congressman for his statement. Along with Malinowski’s failure to timely disclose certain stock trades, the GOP is trying to build a case against a Democratic incumbent that it came close to defeating in 2020.

Kean is not seeking re-election to the state Senate this fall, raising speculation that he is gearing up for a rematch against Malinowski, who raised $923,020 during the first quarter of the year after being targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Tom Malinowski holds himself to a very different standard than what he preaches,” said Republican consultant Harrison Neely, who worked on the Kean campaign. “He will never let the truth or the law get in the way of accomplishing his political ambitions.”

Malinowski wasn’t alone, though.

During the Oct. 22 presidential debate, Joe Biden said: “I don’t understand why this president is unwilling to take on Putin when he’s actually paying bounties to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.”

And Rep. Andy Kim, a former national security aide, told Fox News last July that the intelligence reports were “significant.”

“When I went to the secure room at the Capitol, read the written intelligence written by our intelligence community, what I found deeply alarming was the consensus across the board that there was actually Russian support to the Taliban that was being targeted toward the United States,” said Kim, D-3rd Dist.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and former Russian policy officer for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Navy Europe office, was more circumspect.

“To hear the allegations that Russia put a bounty on the heads of our troops, this crosses a line and is something that was really unacceptable,” Sherrill, D-11th Dist., said in June after an intelligence briefing with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “I was glad that Meadows held a briefing but certainly it didn’t not answer all the questions. We want to hear from the intelligence agencies.”

Malinowski acknowledged in a recent interview that there was some “imprecision” regarding Russia’s role, but believed the intelligence was credible.

“They wanted the Taliban to kill Americans,” said Malinowski, a former assistant U.S. secretary of state. “Where the intelligence was less conclusive was whether there was a specific bounty program. That’s the piece where there were, I think credible reports, sufficient to merit that very serious warning that ultimately was delivered to the Russians.”

Malinowski said this shouldn’t be an issue in the next campaign.

“The pre-Trump Republican Party would never in a million years criticize us for wanting to warn Russia not to kill out troops,” he said. “Today’s Republican Party seems to take criticism of Russia personally.”

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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him at @JDSalant.

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