By: ERIC MOLLO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) – In an interview with “Axios on HBO” that aired Monday night, President Trump says he “never discussed” reports of Russia offering bounties to Taliban militants for the killing of US soldiers during a recent conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The New York Times reported that the president was briefed on the information. However, The White House says the president was never formally briefed on it.
The president told Axios’ Jonathan Swan, “We don’t talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion.”
President Trump discredited information regarding the Russian bounties in a tweet, while The White House has maintained it has not been fully verified. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Russia is supplying the Taliban with weapons, however, and has done so for years. Despite multiple calls with Putin in 2020, bounties have still not been brought up.
President Trump has called reports of bounties a hoax.
“[Bounty intelligence] never reached my desk,” the president said in the Axios interview, claiming US intelligence “didn’t think it was real.”
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in June that the president did not believe the content in the reports was necessarily fake, but that the initial reporting was a hoax. O’Brien did say the information about bounties was shared with other countries fighting in Afghanistan.
Mick Mulroy is an ABC News defense consultant and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. Mulroy says claims of bounties made by Russia ought to be investigated because of that nation’s aggressive tactics:
“We don’t want a war with Russia. That would not be in anybody’s advantage… but we also have to recognize that the mentality of Russia doesn’t understand anything except for strength, in my opinion. We need to explore all options if they continue to do this, but all of our efforts should be getting them to cease and desist.”
Their threat, according to Mulroy, is significant because of Putin’s leadership:
“Although they [Russia] are number two on our national security because of the capacity of China, their intentions and their actions I think put them really as number one when you have an absolute power leader like Vladimir Putin, whose main effort is to be the counterweight to counter force the United States.”
ABC News defense consultant and retired US Navy SEAL Eric Oehlerich contends that until Russia is discouraged from acting with such aggression, their behavior will continue:
“We’re talking about Russians paying bounties for Americans on the battlefield. Unless there’s a hard line that’s drawn on that sort of activity, that activity is going to continue and it’s going to escalate… We know that there was Russian activity within our last election. It’s in the same strategy of them to just create all these pressure points on our society to help pull it apart. So it matters… because if the Russian boldness of action is not checked, then the cyber-attacks will not only stay where they are, they will increase. The activity against our service members overseas… it’s not going to stay where it is. It’s going to increase. So there has to be some hard lines that are drawn.”
Mulroy explains that the allegation of Russian bounties is not just an issue important to the military, but to every American citizen, and it is an issue for which he believes Americans should hold their elected officials accountable:
“I think the American people should hold their representatives to account to dig into what is occurring over there and find the facts… The military is not a separate part of America. They are fully integrated into American society and they’re out there and doing their duty: following orders of officials that are elected by the United States citizens. So this is very much important to them, and they should take this very seriously.”
If reports of bounties go unaddressed, further issues could arise, according to Oehlerich:
“The sooner that you establish the right relations in this relationship, the better for everybody involved with him [Putin] being a long term problem… It’s expressing support for a proactive relationship with the way that Russia is carrying itself out. It is voicing support for being active in this and letting them know unequivocally that it’s unacceptable and there’s a price to pay for it.”Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.