Trump says he didn’t believe intelligence about Russia paying bounties on U.S. troops ‘to be real’

President Trump on Friday disputed a finding by U.S. intelligence that Russia paid bounties to Taliban fighters in exchange for killing American troops stationed in Afghanistan.

“It was never brought to my attention, and perhaps it was never brought because I didn’t consider it to be real,” Trump said during a visit to Orlando, Fla., adding, “If it did take place, it would have been brought to my attention and I would take very strong action.”

Yet the finding by U.S. intelligence was included in one of the President’s Daily Briefs in late February, and Trump was asked Friday whether that meant he didn’t read them.

“It was never brought to my attention. I think it’s another Russia hoax. They’ve been giving me the Russia hoax, Shifty Schiff and all these characters from the day I got here and we’re working with Russia right now on a nonproliferation agreement.”

On Tuesday, Trump said that he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week but did not bring up the finding that Russia had paid bounties on U.S. troops.

“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Since the finding appeared in the Presidential Daily Brief, Trump has spoken to Putin on eight different occasions, Axios reported.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has seized on the story, and Trump’s responses to it, as a campaign issue.

“The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty. If that’s the case, and if he was briefed and nothing was done about this, that’s a dereliction of duty,” Biden told reporters earlier this month.

Biden spokesman Andrew Bates released a statement on Wednesday that continued the criticism of Trump. “The most critical and sacred obligation of a commander-in-chief is to protect those who serve our nation in harm’s way,” Bates said. “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 war zone, our president continues to turn his back on those who put their lives on the line for our country, and on his own duty.”

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