House Dems reject Trump's 'hoax' talk on Russia, bounty scandal

Trump suggested the Russia/bounty controversy could be "another fabricated Russia Hoax." After a briefing, House Dems are convinced otherwise.
Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes
From left, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., rear, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., take a break from interviewing former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.J. Scott Applewhite / AP
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By Steve Benen

Over the weekend, many news organizations took note of the allegations that Russia had put a bounty on the heads of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan. Donald Trump apparently thought addressing the controversy with a tweet would help address public concerns.

"Intel," the president claimed, had just told him that the information wasn't credible, which is why he was in the dark. Trump added that the entire issue could be "another fabricated Russia Hoax."

Much of this was soon after contradicted by his own White House, which said there was no Sunday briefing. The tweet was also contradicted by several published reports that said the president was alerted to the matter months ago.

As for the "hoax" talk, House Democrats received a closed-door White House briefing this morning, and quickly took aim at the president's dismissal of the burgeoning scandal.

"The president called this a 'hoax' publicly. Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax," Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, told reporters after leaving the briefing. "There may be different judgments as to the level of credibility [of the reports], but there was no assertion that the information we had was a hoax," he added.

For those keeping score, a handful of House Republicans had a private briefing on the Russia/bounty matter yesterday, and they left with more questions. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) acknowledged that he "of course" wanted additional information.

Last night, a group of senators received access to intelligence materials related to the controversy, and soon after, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted to Trump, "I just reviewed the intel. It's not a hoax, Mr. President. And if you continue ignoring the facts, more soldiers and marines are going to die."

This was followed by this morning's briefing for House Dems, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who added this morning, "I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn't come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russians are putting a bounty on the heads of American troops."

That said, the consensus among Democrats who attended today's session was that it wasn't a satisfying briefing: Politico reported that senior Democratic lawmakers agreed they were given "no substantive information" about the allegations from White House officials, and key U.S. intelligence leaders were not in attendance.

"What we need is a briefing by the intelligence community to give us their assessment of the credibility of this information," Hoyer told reporters. Schiff added, "The right people to give the briefing really were not in the room."

This controversy has a long way to go.