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‘Stupefyingly Stupid’: Lawyers React to Report That White House Withheld Evidence of Russian Bounties from Republicans

Following bombshell allegations that the Russian government offered Taliban militants secret bounties for killing U.S. troops, the Trump administration on Monday invited a bloc of eight GOP lawmakers to the White House for a briefing where administration officials insisted that there was conflicting intelligence on the matter. However, the White House reportedly refrained from divulging a key piece of evidence which legal experts say casts further doubt both on the Trump administration’s shifting explanations and the president’s claims that the entire story is a “hoax.”

According to a Tuesday report from the New York Times, U.S. intelligence officials had supported the contention that the Russian military was running a bounty program with intercepted electronic data “showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.”

According to the Times report, which was sourced to three officials familiar with the intelligence, “[t]he intercepts bolstered the findings gleaned from the interrogations, helping reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees.”

“The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump,” the report went on to say. “In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February, two officials have said.”

The Pentagon said Monday that there was “no corroborating evidence” to support the Times’s reporting. The Pentagon statement, which was obtained by Fox News:

To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports. Regardless, we always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan—and around the world—most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck, a noted expert in national security law and military justice, condemned the administration’s apparent decision to intentionally mislead lawmakers.

“It’s almost impressive how the Trump White House keeps making this series of scandals *worse*,” Vladeck commented. “It’s bad enough that they lied all weekend about what they knew and when; now it turns out that they even misled the hand-picked congressional Republicans who they ‘briefed’ yesterday.”

Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist, attorney and law professor Harry Litman, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said that under normal circumstances, revelations like this would prompt serious talk of impeachment.

“Beginning of trail was intercept of bank data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account. 2 officials confirm Trump was briefed. In a different time, we’d be talking impeachment,” Litman wrote.

Former Intelligence Community attorney Susan Hennessey said additional intel leaks were caused by the administration’s “lies.”

“Looks like Trump administration kept this corroborating intel even from the Republican lawmakers briefed yesterday,” NYU law Prof. Ryan Goodman said, pointing to the Times story.

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe called the Trump administration’s reported actions “stupefyingly stupid.”

Republicans have said that Democrats have hypocritically been “politicizing intelligence.”

Democrats say that Republicans, particularly those who were not told about data evidence, should direct their anger at President Donald Trump.

[image via Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.