President Donald Trump said he never questioned Russian President Vladimir Putin about U.S. intelligence reports that Russia paid the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, casting doubt on the reports in an interview.
“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump said in an interview on Tuesday on Axios.
Trump, who has sought to cultivate warmer relations with Moscow, has said he was not briefed on the matter before it emerged in news media in late June. He has called the reports a hoax and casts doubt on them.
Asked why he did not confront Putin on the issue in their call last Thursday, Trump told Axios, “That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.”
His skepticism has been contradicted by four U.S. and European sources and by its inclusion in a widely read CIA report in May.
Excerpts from Tuesday’s interview were released on Wednesday and the full interview will be broadcast on Monday, Aug. 3.
Democrats in Congress have accused Trump of not taking intelligence information concerning soldiers’ deaths seriously enough.
White House officials have struggled to explain the Trump administration’s response to the bounty reports, but has not commented on their substance or denied the information was included in written presidential intelligence briefings.
National security adviser Robert O’Brien has said Trump was not verbally briefed on the intelligence because his CIA briefer concluded the reports were uncorroborated.