U.S. Intelligence Walks Back Russian Bounty Claim that Democrats Used to Attack Trump During 2020

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) attends a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on at the Capitol Building June 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Democrats are highlighting what they say is the improper politicization of Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty …
Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

A senior Biden administration official admitted Thursday that the United States intelligence community assessed with only “low to moderate confidence” the claim that Russian intelligence officers offered the Taliban bounties on American troops in Afghanistan.

“The United States intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019 and perhaps earlier,” the senior administration official told reporters during a background conference call.

Despite the uncorroborated nature of the claim, first reported by the New York Times, Democrats used it to attack former President Donald Trump before the 2020 election to argue that he did not care about American troops in harm’s way and was unwilling to confront Russian President Vladimir.

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) used the claim to attack Trump. Biden tweeted on July 1, 2020 that Trump doing “nothing” was “an unjustifiable dereliction of duty.” Harris tweeted on October 7, 2020: “He let Putin get away with placing bounties on the heads of our troops.”

Several House Democrats who served on the House Intelligence Committee pushed the claim as truth — and attacked Trump for not condemning Putin. For example, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweeted on August 27, 2020:

Bounties on U.S. troops. Election interference. Injuring our soldiers. Yet again, Trump is shamefully silent. Trump will never stand up to Russia and Vladimir Putin. And because Republicans refuse to stand up to Trump, They too put our democracy – and our troops – in danger.

Fellow House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who had a relationship with a suspected Chinese spy, also attacked Trump over the claim. He tweeted September 3, 2020:

Now I get why @realDonaldTrump won’t stand up to Putin for bounties on our troops. Does Trump act as a Russia agent? Yes. But, Trump also thinks any US troops killed by Russia bounties are “suckers” or “losers.” He hasn’t defended them. He never will.

On July 5, 2020, Swalwell tweeted:

Do you support: Our troops? *Because @realDonaldTrump hasn’t said shit about serious allegations Russia is paying bounties to kill them. Cut the childish tweets and do your job: protect those in uniform.

But perhaps no Democrat was more vocal on this than Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). He tweeted at least two dozen times about the Russian bounty claim, stating it as a fact and attacking Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He tweeted October 9, 2020:

North Korea has not gotten rid of a single nuclear weapon & has increased nuclear fuel production; Russia put bounties on our troops & Iran is building a more advanced nuclear program.

He tweeted July 9, 2020:

Russia placing bounties on the lives of American troops cannot go unanswered by the US government.

He accused Trump of “treasonous behavior” for not condemning Putin on July 7, 2020:

The @WhiteHouse & @GOP are more concerned about who told the American people that Russia paid bounties to Taliban to kill US troops, than about actually responding to Russia. The fact that @realDonaldTrump still hasn’t condemned Vladimir Putin is treasonous behavior.

On July 3, 2020, he tweeted:

As we celebrate #4thofJuly2020@realDonaldTrump still has not condemned Vladimir Putin for paying bounties to kill Americans. This is not just Trump acting bizarre, this is traitorous behavior. And any @GOP official who remains silent should be ashamed.

A number of Democrat senators also attacked Trump over the claim.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) tweeted on July 29, 2020: “We need a president who won’t place Moscow’s interests above the safety of our troops.”

Then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) on June 29, 2020, called for an “immediate briefing” on the claim.

Sen. Chris Murphy (CT) tweeted on June 26, 2020, that “Trump found out Russia paid bounties to Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan…He decided to not ask them to stop. Chew on that for a sec.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) tweeted September 3, 2020, that Trump has “let Putin get away with” putting “bounties on US troops in Afghanistan.”

The Trump Pentagon at the time issued a statement that said the claim was uncorroborated, and U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie also said the claim was uncorroborated.

Nevertheless, Democrats continued attacking Trump through the election for not responding to the uncorroborated intelligence.

Former Trump White House Communications Director and former Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Alyssa Farah tweeted Thursday that the Trump administration told the public the claim was unverified and unproven.

“I saw the intel. The media failed on the reporting around this & the public was misled,” she tweeted.

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