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Intel chiefs brief congressional leaders on Russia bounties

By Associated Press Staff

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence chiefs conducted classified briefings Thursday for congressional leaders who have demanded more answers about intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump has called news reports about the assessments a “hoax,” but hasn’t directly addressed their substance or whether the U.S. has or will respond to Russia.

Top intelligence officials, including CIA chief Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, conducted the closed-door briefing for a group of lawmakers dubbed the “gang of eight” — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Republicans and Democrats on the two intelligence committees. The group regularly receives classified briefings at the highest levels.

Pelosi said ahead of the meeting that she hopes Republicans in the briefing are “open to the truth,” and she called for additional sanctions on Russia.

The White House has insisted that Trump wasn’t briefed on the assessments because they hadn’t been verified, even though it’s rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of doubt before it is presented to senior government decision-makers.

“The White House has done a con, saying that because all of the agencies of intelligence have not signed off on this, it wasn’t worthy of the president’s attention,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. “You know the death of our young people in Afghanistan or any place is worthy of the president’s attention.”

The House intelligence committee will also receive a briefing on the matter Thursday afternoon, according to a person familiar with that meeting who requested anonymity because the briefing was not publicly disclosed.

The Capitol Hill meetings come as Trump has been under increasing pressure to provide answers about the U.S. response to Russia or the lack of one. But the president has continued to downplay the intelligence, calling it “fake news” designed to damage him and the Republican party.

The intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.

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