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Intelligence has receipts on Russian payments to Taliban as Republicans scramble for cover

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Republicans were outraged at the idea of Russia placing a bounty for the killing of American forces. Or at least they were so long as they thought surely Donald Trump hadn’t known about that one. Now that it’s clear Trump very much did know, Republicans are starting to move to a new position—one that says a foreign nation engaging in proxy war against the United States by paying for the murder of American forces is simply not worthy of Trump’s time. To simplify the questions that come up in most scandals: How much did Donald Trump know? Everything. When did he know it? A year ago.

Next up is sure to be the “But Putin denies it, so everything’s cool” phase. However, before Republicans join Trump in trusting Vladimir for the inside info, it might be worth knowing that Russia didn’t even bother to cover up their tracks. As The New York Times reports, American intelligence intercepted records showing “large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.” These payments suspected of being explicit payments for the murder of American forces. Even if they’re not, they show Russia directly engaging in a war the U.S. has been fighting for two decades.

Officials in Afghanistan have announced the arrest of a number of businessmen who helped to transfer the Russian funds to the Taliban through a series of informal “hawala” arrangements. One of these men was found with over half a million dollars, but the nature of the system makes it difficult to determine how much money was transferred in total. These men are suspected of being just part of a ring that funneled money from Russia to Taliban fighters and other militants whose job wasn’t just to kill American soldiers, but to keep America entangled in Afghanistan, tying up large amounts of revenue and harming both American military capabilities and foreign policy.

The White House held a Monday morning intelligence briefing for Congress, by which they mean that selected Republicans who have expressed their undying support for Trump were brought in to be given their talking points on how to describe this scandal. Probably something, something, Benghazi, email. Possible Benghazi, email, Ukraine. Democrats, and even most Republicans, were excluded from this get together stage managed by former Trump-supporting Congressmen Mark Meadows and John Ratcliffe, who modeled for their former colleagues the perks of being the best … at being the worst.

The talking point that Meadows and Ratcliffe appear to be pushing is that there was a lot of doubt behind the intelligence suggesting Russia was paying to put a target on Americans. Enough doubt, apparently, that the appropriate level of followup was none at all. This runs absolutely counter to the evidence which has emerged to show that, not only where British officials warned of the Russians scheme, but Trump was personally briefed by John Bolton at a meeting created solely for the purpose of briefing Trump on this one item. The information was also included in a widely read internal intelligence newsletter sent out at the beginning of May.

At a second briefing, Democrats were able to collect some information. Enough so that Adam Schiff paused to say, “I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn’t come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russia is putting bounties on American troops and that he will do everything in his power to make sure that we protect American troops.”

Meanwhile, NBC News is now confirming earlier reports that Trump has known about this scheme for over a year. The intelligence was known a month before a car bomb attack in April 2019 that killed three Marines.

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