White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany slammed the anonymous leak to the New York Times that alleged a Russian military intelligence unit had offered bounties on American forces in Afghanistan as “irresponsible.”
She said at the White House briefing Tuesday:
The front page of the New York Times is not the venue for discussing classified information. The White House podium is not the venue for discussing classified information. We are here today, having this discussion, because of an irresponsible, anonymous leak to the New York Times.
Who’s going to want to cooperate with the United States intelligence community, who’s going to want to be a source or an asset, if they know that their identity could be disclosed? Which allies will want to share information with us if they know that some rogue intelligence officer can go splash that information on the front page of a major U.S. newspaper.
She said the leak makes it more difficult for the intelligence community to come to a consensus on the unverified intelligence and creates a level of controversy and discord that plays “directly into the hands of Russia.”
McEnany also pointed out that leaks during the Trump administration have “surged.” She said under President Obama, there were just 39 criminal leak referrals, but during the Trump administration there have been an average of 104 per year.
“Make no mistake: This damages our ability, as a nation, to collect intelligence,” she said.
She addressed the leakers directly:
To those government officials who betray the trust of the people of the United States by leaking classified information, your actions endanger our national security. … It is also, simply put, a crime.
… To the anonymous sources who leak classified information, you should know this: You may seek to undermine our President, but in fact, you undermine our country’s safety and our country’s security.
McEnany reiterated that President Trump was never briefed on the unverified intelligence and that there was never consensus among the intelligence community that Russian operatives offered bounties for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon issued a statement late Monday evening that said it had “no corroborating evidence” to validate the Times’ report.
McEnany said the president has now been briefed, but it does not change the fact that the intelligence is still unverified.
She also said she would not confirm what intelligence was in the Presidential Daily Brief, a top-secret classified document, but that whenever there is any intelligence that could affect troops’ safety, it always goes to troops on the ground and allies so they can take the necessary measures.
She said the president is “constantly being informed and briefed on intelligence matters.”
McEnany reiterated the tough actions Trump has taken against Russia to date, including closing Russia’s consulate in the west coast of the U.S., expelling 60 Russian intelligence officers, sanctioning “hundreds” of targets, withdrawing from the International Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, trying to halt Nord Stream, imposing visa sanctions, among other actions. She said:
So make no mistake: This President is prepared to act and will always act in protecting our American troops. We saw in Syria, in the strikes in 2018, that dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed. He will always act, prot- — to protect American troops. That is indeed his track record.
McEnany said the “ultimate way to protect U.S. troops is to “not get into needless foreign wars.”
“[The president has] wound down our troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he’s ultimately protected American troops and kept this country safe. And this President has a very strong foreign policy record to be incredibly proud of,” she said.