President Trump spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, but did not mention recent reports that Putin’s government had been offering bounties to Taliban fighters for killing American forces, the president acknowledged in a new interview.
In an interview with Axios, the president claimed that he had other reasons for speaking with Putin on July 23, and expressed doubt over the validity of the bounty story.
“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said in the interview, which is set to air Aug. 3 on HBO.
The president said that he and Putin discussed “numerous things,” including nuclear proliferation, which he said was “a very big problem — bigger problem than global warming.”
Trump said that in theory he could discuss the bounty story with Putin, but the intelligence had been called into question and never made it to his desk.
“I would, I have no problem with it,” Trump said. “It never reached my desk. You know why? Because they didn’t think — intelligence, they didn’t think it was real.”
“If it reached my desk, I would have done something about it.”
The New York Times originally reported that Russia had been offering bounties to the Taliban for killing American troops. The Washington Post further reported that the Russian bounties are “believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members,” and the Associated Press reported that officials said an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three Marines in Afghanistan is under investigation.
Russia has denied the allegations, and the White House insisted that there is “no consensus” that the intelligence is accurate.
Joe Biden’s campaign accused Trump of essentially betraying the military by not being tough with Russia on this issue.
“The most critical and sacred obligation of a commander-in-chief is to protect those who serve our nation in harm’s way,” campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement on Wednesday. “But months after the U.S. intelligence community sounded the alarm — to Donald Trump and to our allies — that Russia was placing bounties on the heads of American servicemen and women in a warzone, our president continues to turn his back on those who put their lives on the line for our country, and on his own duty.”
Fox News’ Madeleine Rivera contributed to this report.