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"Well, I think the president can't single-handedly remember everything, I'm sure, that he's briefed on, but the intelligence officials are familiar with it and briefed him," Republican Senator John Cornyn told the Washington Post. Maybe it just slipped his mind that Russia had placed a bounty on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan. Whoopsie!

It's an odd thing to say when the president's reelection campaign is built around pretending that his opponent Joe Biden is senile. But with this Russian bounty story metastasizing by the hour, the GOP is in a tight spot.

Since the New York Times broke the news Saturday, the White House has offered several conflicting explanations for Trump's failure to protect American troops. First it was a hoax. Then it wasn't a hoax, but the president hadn't been briefed on it. Then the president might have been briefed on it, but maybe only in writing, and who could possibly expect him to read stuff anyway? Then it was back to being a hoax perpetrated by the New York Times book review.

Yesterday afternoon, White House spokesliar Kayleigh McEnany tried out another version, telling reporters, "There was not a consensus among the intelligence community. And, in fact, there were dissenting opinions within the intelligence community, and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified." Never mind that presidents are routinely briefed on potential dangers which haven't been firmly nailed down, and, according to the Times, the NSC found the information credible enough to prepare a range of possible responses, none of which got approved by the White House.

Then Trump's former director of national intelligence and current campaign staffer Ric Grenell was dispatched to yell at Democrats for politicizing intelligence while the White House huddled up with congressional Republicans to get their story straight.

Indiana Congressman Jim Banks emerged from the meeting triumphant, eager to implement "Operation Counterattack: Thank God There Won't Be Any More Leaks, Now We Can Blame the New York Times For Jeopardizing the Investigation." Nothing could go wrong!


Rep. Adam Kinzinger dutifully trotted off to flog the "unverified" story line, telling pool reporters, "The question of whether or not Russia was offering bounties it's still out there being determined. It's going through a process. I think it shouldn't have risen to his level at that point because there was conflicting intelligence. But the administration went forward with additional force protection maneuvers to protect our troops."

See, Donald Trump was never briefed, and yet he still took heroic countermeasures. And the Times Books people are off the hook for that hoax thing, but somehow also wholly to blame because now we'll never be able to catch the bad guys. Forget about the fact that military intelligence realized the story must be true when Navy SEALs busted in on a Taliban stash house β€” presumably full of bad guys β€” and found $500,000 of cash which they knew must have come from the Russians. The important thing is that Donald Trump is a holy, patriotic wonder, and the media is garbage. We done here, then?

Apparently not.

No sooner had the White House hit send on the new marching orders, but the New York Times jackhammered the news cycle by revealing that Trump was informed of the Russian bounty plot back in February when it was included in his Presidential Daily Briefing. So much for all those denials that anyone in the intel chain thought to tell the president about this "unverified" story about Russia paying the Taliban to kill American soldiers. And even viewed in the most charitable light, McEnany's insistence that "He was not personally briefed on the matter" looks like a careful attempt to get around the presence of a written report by claiming that it didn't count because no one explained it to Commander Numbnuts using words of two syllables or less and a visual aid in comic book format.

But then the AP ripped that figleaf away, too, reporting that the Russian bounty scheme was included in the Presidential Daily Briefing over a year ago, in March of 2019, and worse still, he got that face-to-face, dumbed-down 'splainer from then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, who convened a meeting specifically to walk Trump through it.

The officials told the AP that career government officials developed potential options for the White House to respond to the Russian aggression in Afghanistan, which was first reported by The New York Times. However, the Trump administration has yet to authorize any action.

The intelligence in 2019 and 2020 surrounding Russian bounties was derived in part from debriefings of captured Taliban militants. Officials with knowledge of the matter told the AP that Taliban operatives from opposite ends of the country and from separate tribes offered similar accounts.

After which, the president did exactly nothing.

Well, no, that's not quite true. Trump announced that we would be withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan, and then invited the Taliban to Camp David for peace negotiations, only canceling after a suicide attack killed 12 people, including one American, in September, 2019. He also had dozens of conversations with with Vladimir Putin and pressed for Russia to be readmitted to the G7, which it was kicked out of after annexing Crimea. So tough! (As a side note, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was leading the charge to conclude a peace deal with the Taliban, is highly likely to have known about Putin's bounty scheme. Truly, he deserves a medal for his commitment to stepping into every single pile of dogshit at the White House.)

In the meantime, brand shiny new Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have issued non-denial denials of the reporting. And congressional Republicans have stomped their feet in performative howls for blood, with Ben Sasse demanding "Taliban and GRU body bags," and Cory Gardner finding it "deeply troubling" and Todd Young calling for a "strong and immediate response from our government."

As for Donald Trump, he still hasn't said one word to criticize his best pal Pootie. According to McEnany, there's a good reason for that, though.

"Given these reports," Jeff Mason of Reuters asked yesterday, "does the president have a specific message for Moscow?"

"No," McEnany said, "because he has not been briefed."

The entire country knows about it, but the president remains in a state of blissful ignorance. Anyway, tell us again how Joe Biden isn't mentally up to the job of presidenting.

THIS IS FINE.

[WaPo / NYT / AP]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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