PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) was among the House Republicans briefed Monday on intelligence that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-associated militants for killing American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported Friday that American officials had concluded months ago that a Russian intelligence unit had offered the rewards during peace talks to end the long-running war there last year.
The Times' report said that, according to intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the intelligence finding was briefed to President Donald Trump in March, and that he was given a list of potential options but had yet to authorize any step.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that the president was not personally briefed on the matter and that there was "no consensus" in the intelligence community about the Russian bounty intelligence.
A briefing of Democrats is expected Tuesday morning.
Democrat Tedra Cobb of Canton, who is running against Stefanik for the 21st Congressional District seat, said in a statement Sunday that the reports were an incredibly serious intelligence and national security matter.
"If the New York Times reporting is accurate, we now know that Donald Trump refused to act when Russia put a bounty on American and allied soldiers' heads," she said.
"This issue is non-partisan; it is about the lives of American troops."
Cobb pointed out that Stefanik sits on both the House Intelligence Committee and House Armed Services Committee. She added that Stefanik chairs the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities — when in fact the congresswoman is the ranking member — and represents Fort Drum.
"Two hundred fifty soldiers from Fort Drum were deployed to Afghanistan in May," Cobb continued.
"Her silence is a complete abdication of her duty to protect the brave men and women of the 10th Mountain Division."
Cobb said Stefanik should call for an independent investigation into Russia "and this administration's failure to act."
Stefanik did not appear to comment on the matter until after Monday's briefing.
In a statement, she said the White House senior level classified briefing featured Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, National Security Council staff and some of her Congressional colleagues.
“As the representative and chief advocate in Congress for Fort Drum and the soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed unit in the Army, I will continue to work with the administration to ensure that our number one priority is force protection and protecting our national security — especially our brave men and women in uniform," the congresswoman said in a statement.
"Since 2017, the Trump administration has taken decisive actions to counter Russian aggression, including imposing strict sanctions, expelling Russian intelligence officers, closing Russian consulates and significantly increasing U.S. funding for the European Defense Initiative."
Stefanik said she has additionally worked with the administration "to rebuild our military readiness and intelligence capabilities gutted by President Obama and Vice President Biden.
"I anticipate additional briefings on this important matter in Afghanistan and my focus is on ensuring the safety and security of our troops."
On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called for a congressional investigation into the "reported Russian bounty scheme" to determine the full consequences, who must be held accountable and how.
“I believe that when we ask our service members and their families to take risks and make sacrifices for the United States, it is with the understanding that we will do anything we can to mitigate those risks and honor those sacrifices,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
“President Trump appears to have utterly failed to uphold his end of the bargain. Through thorough investigation, oversight and accountability measures, we can still keep ours.”
In a letter to leaders of the Senate's Intelligence and Armed Services committees, Gillibrand — who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee — said "an effective investigation" must look into the following questions, at minimum:
• What was the scope of the bounty program? Were any Americans killed as a result? What are their names? Who received the bounties? How much was paid out?
• When did President Trump and senior officials learn about the Russian bounty program? What options were they presented with to respond? What did key advisers recommend? What did the president do?
• Which members of Congress were made aware of the bounty program? What were they told and when?
In a tweet Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for an immediate briefing from Ratcliffe and Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel for all 100 senators on the Russian bounty intelligence.
"We also need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when," he wrote.
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