The White House is furiously denying that President Donald Trump saw evidence that Russia had placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but there's plenty of non-classified evidence the Kremlin has recently escalated its aggression.
The president insists he never saw intelligence about the bounties and the White House says the evidence was never strong enough to present to him, but even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admits Russia has escalated its attacks on U.S. interests, reported the New York Times.
"There have been new cyberattacks on Americans working from home to exploit vulnerabilities in their corporate systems and continued concern about new playbooks for Russian actors seeking to influence the November election," the Times reported. "Off the coast of Alaska, Russian jets have been testing American air defenses, sending U.S. warplanes scrambling to intercept them."
But there's so far been no strategy for pushing back against Russian aggression.
The administration officially describes Russia as a “revisionist power” that aims to push the U.S. out of NATO and the Middle East, but the president personally objects to criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his regime, according to White House sources.
Trump has invited Putin to a G7 meeting planned for September in Washington, over the objections of U.S. allies who had banned Russia for its invasion of Crimea, and White House aides are fearful of bringing damning intelligence against Russia to the president.
The White House is also dead set on reaching a peace agreement with the Taliban before the election so Trump can announce a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the bounty situation potentially endangers those efforts.
Intelligence agencies intercepted financial transactions between Russia and the Taliban, which bolsters claims about the bounty program, and lawmakers who have been briefed on the matter are asking why the president hasn't acted to counter the threat.
“I’m concerned they didn’t pursue it as aggressively or comprehensively as they should have,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. “Clearly there was evidence that Russia was paying the bounties.”