In a Wednesday interview with Axios, Donald Trump claimed that he did not bring up the alleged Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in his July 23 phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Daily Caller reported.
“That was a phone call to discuss other things,” Trump said. “And, frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.”
According to Trump, the subject of the call was nuclear proliferation. The United States leader said he has yet to broach the subject of the alleged bounties with Putin but claimed he would have no problem doing so. He also denied ever seeing the information on the matter, which was reportedly included in his daily briefing in February.
NEW: President Trump tells @jonathanvswan on #AxiosOnHBO that he didn't raise the issue of alleged bounties on U.S. troops during his call with Vladimir Putin last week: "That was a phone call to discuss other things." pic.twitter.com/daISvMFUE1
— Axios (@axios) July 29, 2020
The initial story on the purported bounties was broken by The New York Times, which claimed that intelligence suggested Russia was offering financial rewards to Taliban-linked militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. However, some expressed skepticism at the reporting. Notably, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., who is one of the highest-ranking U.S. generals overseeing Middle East operations, called the suggestion “worrisome” and said he did not see a “causative link.”
Grayzone journalist Aaron Maté also suggested that the report didn’t make sense and argued that the Taliban did not need any incentive to kill Americans.
As reported by NBC News, U.S. officials later said that the evidence supporting the claim is less than conclusive. Still, many criticized Trump for his purported lack of action.
Douglas London, a former CIA officer who worked the Afghan issue, noted that American soldiers were risking their lives in Afghanistan and pointed to the president’s decision to direct intelligence agencies to work with the Kremlin on counterterrorism operations. London also argued that whether the recent information on alleged bounties is correct or not, Moscow has long been pumping aid and finances into Taliban operations against America.
During his Axios interview, Trump suggested that Russia receives an unnecessary degree of scrutiny compared to China and argued that working with the former on nuclear proliferation is a higher priority than other international issues like global warming.
Per the National Post, Trump has sought to improve relations with Moscow throughout his presidency. Democrats have long criticized the real estate mogul’s friendliness with Putin, and they have accused him of not taking the intelligence seriously enough. As The Inquisitr wrote, some Republican lawmakers, including Liz Cheney and Lindsey Graham, also pressed Trump for more information on the purported bounties.