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O'Brien says top CIA official decided against briefing Trump on Russia bounty intel

White House slams leaks on Russia allegations
White House slams leakers as Congress demands more answers on alleged Russian bounties 02:27

Washington — National security adviser Robert O'Brien said Wednesday that the senior career CIA officer who briefs President Trump in person made the decision not to verbally brief him on intelligence about a Russian scheme to offer bounties targeting American troops in Afghanistan, saying she lacked confidence in the veracity of the intelligence.

"The president's career CIA briefer decided not to brief him because it was unverified intelligence," O'Brien said in an interview with Fox News, adding that she is "an outstanding officer."

O'Brien told reporters at the White House following his interview that the CIA officer who serves as the president's briefer, who he did not identify, decided not to tell Mr. Trump of the Russian bounty operation "because she didn't have the confidence in the intelligence that came up."

"We get raw intelligence and tactical intelligence every day, hundreds of pieces of intelligence come in every day, thousands of pieces of intelligence come in a week," he said. "She made that call and, you know what, I think she made the right call, so I'm not going to criticize her. And knowing the facts that I know now, I stand behind that call."

Later in the day, the president said on Fox Business that the bounties story was a "hoax" and "we never heard about it" because intelligence officials didn't think it rose to his level. "The intelligence people, many of them didn't believe it happened at all," Mr. Trump said. 

Mr. Trump's consumption of intelligence, both through the President's Daily Brief, a daily written summary, and his in-person intelligence briefings, has come under scrutiny after the New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. had intelligence indicating a Russian military spy unit offered cash payments to Taliban-linked soldiers for killing U.S. troops and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump, O'Brien and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said neither the president nor the vice president were briefed on the Russian operation targeting American soldiers because the intelligence was not verified by the intelligence community. But the Times and the Associated Press reported this week the information was included in Mr. Trump's written intelligence briefings.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday the president has since been briefed "on what is unfortunately in the public domain."

"He has been briefed," she said, "but that does not change the fact that there is no consensus on this intelligence that still has yet to be verified."

O'Brien told reporters the president is now "fully aware of the situation." But he noted that once the U.S. received raw intelligence on the Russian bounties, U.S. and coalition forces were made aware even though the intelligence wasn't verified.

"The DOD came out and said as soon as we had this information, we made sure that we had tactics in place, that we took protective measures, to look after our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Afghanistan. That hasn't been reported. That was done right," he said. "Here at the White House, when we had this raw intelligence, we started an interagency process to look at options, so that if the intelligence turned out to be verified, if it could be corroborated, then we'd have options to go to the president with to address the Russian situation."

The matter has raised questions among Democrats and Republicans who are urging the White House to provide them with more information on the Russian operation, including what Mr. Trump knew and when. The White House, meanwhile, has chastised the New York Times for its report on the intelligence and criticized the unidentified official who leaked the information to the press.

O'Brien told reporters he believes the CIA filed a "crimes report" with the Justice Department regarding the
leak. The Justice Department on Tuesday declined to comment on whether they are investigating who leaked the Russian bounty finding, after McEnany was pressed as to whether the Trump administration is taking action to identify the government official.

"These are important allegations and if they're verified, I can guarantee you the president would take strong action," he said. "We've been working for several months on options for the president of the United States in the event that this uncorroborated, as the Department of Defense calls it, uncorroborated evidence turned out to be true. It may now be impossible to get to the bottom of this because some government official somewhere decided to leak allegations before we had a chance to get to the bottom of it."

White House officials met with a group of House Republicans and a group of House Democrats separately this week to discuss the Russian bounty intelligence, though Democrats who attended their meeting Tuesday said they did not hear from key officials within the intelligence community or learn anything new.

The White House is expected to hold a briefing with the so-called "Gang of Eight" — leaders of the House and Senate, and leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — on Capitol Hill on Thursday, senior administration officials told CBS News.

Fin Gomez contributed to this report.

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