Former US ambassador to Russia says Trump 'always sides with Putin' after the president said the Russian bounty intelligence is 'Fake News'

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, leave the stage together at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
  • President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested intelligence on a suspected Russian bounty plot was "Fake News," prompting sharp criticism from a former US ambassador to Russia.
  • "He always sides with Putin; never with his own intelligence officers or soldiers," Michael McFaul, the top US diplomat in Moscow from 2012 to 2014, said in a tweet.
  • Though the White House on Wednesday confirmed Trump has been "fully briefed" on the matter and is continuing to brief members of Congress, the president has essentially claimed the intelligence doesn't exist.
  • American intelligence officials reportedly intercepted electronic data that showed large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia's military intelligence agency (the GRU) to a Taliban-linked account, which reinforced intelligence gleaned from interrogations that suggested Russia was paying Afghan militants to target US troops.

A former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, on Wednesday excoriated President Donald Trump for suggesting intelligence on a suspected Russian bounty plot involving the targeting of US soldiers was "Fake News."

McFaul, the top US diplomat in Moscow from 2012 to 2014, said Trump "always sides with" Russian President Vladimir Putin over the US intelligence community and US troops.

"The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party," Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday. "The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!"Advertisement

Responding to Trump, McFaul in a tweet said, "Trump said the exact same thing about the overwhelming U.S. intelligence that documented Putin's interference in our 2016 presidential election. He always sides with Putin; never with his own intelligence officers or soldiers."

Last Friday, the New York Times reported that US intelligence officials determined months ago that Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill US troops in Afghanistan, adding that there's been no known response from the Trump administration despite the fact the president was briefed. That report has since been corroborated and expanded upon by other reports from major publications.

The intelligence was reportedly included in Trump's daily written briefing in late February. A separate report from the Associated Press on Monday said US officials knew about the suspected plot in the early months of 2019, far earlier than previously reported, adding that Trump was briefed on it in March 2019.
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American intelligence officials reportedly intercepted electronic data that showed large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia's military intelligence agency (the GRU) to a Taliban-linked account, which reinforced intelligence gleaned from interrogations that suggested Russia was paying Afghan militants to target US troops.

The Trump administration has downplayed the reports on the suspected Russian plot, painting them as unsubstantiated and stating that the president was never briefed on the matter.Trump has offered an array of responses to reports on the intelligence, ranging from claiming he was unaware of the intel to contesting its credibility and describing it as a "hoax." Though his administration has been briefing members of Congress on the intelligence and the White House briefed Trump on the intel this week, the president claims it doesn't actually exist. White House national security adviser Robert C. O'Brien on Wednesday said Trump had been "fully briefed" on the reports regarding the Russian bounty plot. Advertisement

Congressional lawmakers who've been briefed on the intelligence have rejected Trump's efforts to dismiss its significance.

"The president called this a hoax publicly," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. "Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax."

The Russian government and the Taliban have both denied such an operation ever existed, and Trump has essentially echoed their talking points by characterizing the intelligence as bogus. Advertisement

Trump has a history of behaving in a deferential manner toward Putin. In perhaps the most infamous example, Trump during a 2018 summit in Helsinki, Finland, appeared to side with Putin over the US intelligence community on the subject of Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The incident prompted bipartisan uproar and criticism back in the US.

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