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Timeline: What we know about the Russia bounties intelligence and Trump

Three months later, the United States still hasn’t responded, and Trump is now calling it a “hoax” — despite significant GOP concern.

The Post's Ellen Nakashima on President Trump's response to reports that Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan. (Video: The Washington Post)
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This post has been updated as of July 2.

President Trump’s long, aspirational, tortured relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, entered one of its most controversial chapters this past weekend. The New York Times first reported — with The Washington Post and others confirming — that U.S. intelligence has assessed that a Russian military spy unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan to kill coalition troops, including American ones. The Post further reported that the bounties have indeed been linked to U.S. troop deaths.

There has been intense debate within the intelligence community, dating back to March, about how to respond. Three months later, though, the Trump administration still hasn’t responded. In the intervening period, Trump has described Russia and Putin as friends of the United States, has sent humanitarian aid to Russia and has continued to push for its inclusion into the Group of Seven summit.

Since the news broke, Trump has also repeatedly dismissed the bounties story as a “hoax” — breaking with many in his own party who are taking it seriously, as well as with administration officials who have suggested that the intelligence is still being analyzed.

The potential scandal here is readily apparent: the idea that a president and an administration would do nothing about an antagonistic foreign power funding the killing of Americans.

There’s still plenty we don’t know, including which attacks on U.S. troops might have been linked to the bounties. But below is a timeline of what we know, when it happened and what Trump has done vis-a-vis Russia since the intelligence community’s conclusion.

April 2017: Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, appears to confirm reports that Russia is arming the Taliban. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis adds, “Any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law unless they were coming to the government of Afghanistan.”

February 2018: U.S. troops and their Syrian allies kill about 100 people, including Russian mercenaries who were working for an oligarch close to Putin, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, after coming under attack. The event marks the deadliest clash between Americans and Russians since the Cold War ended three decades earlier. U.S. officials have indicated that the bounties might have been in retaliation for this, according to The Post.

March 2018: Nicholson again cites “destabilizing activity by the Russians” in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Russia say the claim is baseless.

April 2019: Three U.S. Marines are killed and three service members wounded in an attack on an American convoy returning to Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The Taliban claims responsibility. Intelligence officials believe this to have been part of the Russian bounty program, according to Washington Post sources. The attack has also been connected to the bounties reported by the Associated Press.

Early 2019: The White House is first made aware of intelligence suggesting Russia was offering bounties, according to Washington Post reporting. The intelligence, which came from Afghan militants and indicated that the bounties might have dated back as early as 2018, is discussed within the White House’s National Security Council. The intelligence community and U.S. Central Command are told to find out more before any action is taken.

October 2019: Russia joins the United States, China and Pakistan in signing a statement on peace in Afghanistan.

Early 2020: SEAL Team 6 raids a Taliban outpost and recovers $500,000 in cash — an event which affirmed the intelligence community’s suspicions about Russia paying bounties.

February: Allegations of Russia’s bounties again make their way to the National Security Council.

Feb. 29: The United States strikes an initial peace deal with the Taliban, which includes a full withdrawal of U.S. forces in 14 months. But Taliban-linked groups would fail to comply with the deal, and further planned peace talks have yet to materialize.

Late March: U.S. intelligence holds a large interagency meeting to discuss the intelligence on Russia’s alleged bounties. The CIA would ultimately conclude that the information was credible and that there was little doubt Russia was targeting U.S. troops, while the National Security Agency would take a more skeptical view. The New York Times reported that Trump had been briefed on the matter at this time, which Trump and the White House deny. But sources have confirmed the information was contained in Trump’s written President’s Daily Brief (or PDB), which Trump reportedly rarely, if ever, reads. The administration still hasn’t lodged an official response to the alleged bounties.

April 18: Trump says, “I have a very good relationship with Putin.”

May: A converted version of the intelligence is distributed in the Wire, a regular CIA report that can be accessed by other government agencies and certain congressional offices.

May 8: Trump says of Russia: “We had no calls from Russia for years. And all of a sudden, we have this great friendship. And, by the way, getting along with Russia is a great thing, getting along with Putin and Russia is a great thing.”

May 8: Trump speaks with Putin and offers to send ventilators to help Russia fight the coronavirus outbreak there. The United States will send 200 ventilators as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian package.

May 21: Trump says: “Russia and us have developed a very good relationship. As you know, we worked on the oil problem together. I think we have a very good relationship with Russia.”

May 30: Trump postpones the G-7 summit and renews his calls for Russia to be reinstated into it.

June 5: Trump says of the ventilators, “We’re sending some to Russia. It’s good for relationship. It’s good for everything.”

Late June: Britain is informed of the intelligence on Russia’s bounties, given that its troops could also have been targets. Other coalition members are not informed.

June 24: Trump attacks the Obama administration for allegedly having been weak on Russia. After Polish President Andrzej Duda brings up Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Trump says, “I just want to add: 2014, which the president was talking about — that was a year where Russia had a good time with the United States. To the best of my knowledge, President Obama and Sleepy Joe Biden, they were in power. They were the ones that were doing it. This was before us. It hasn’t happened with us, and it won’t happen with us, either.”

June 25: One day before news of the Russian bounties and the lack of a U.S. response breaks, Trump repeats his claim to having been tough on Russia. “I was tougher on Russia than any president that’s ever lived — any president,” Trump tells Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity. “Nobody has done what I’ve done with sanctions and all.”

June 26: The New York Times breaks the news about Russia’s bounties. It would soon be confirmed by The Post, the Associated Press and others.

June 28: Trump claims in a tweet responding to the reports, “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP” Mike Pence. Trump adds that it’s “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax.”

June 29: Congressional Republicans are briefed on the intelligence at the White House, with many of them, unlike Trump, expressing grave concerns about it.

June 30: Congressional Democrats are briefed, but say they weren’t provided much information besides the White House’s spin.

July 1: Trump again repeatedly calls the situation a “hoax,” both in tweets and an interview with Fox Business Network. “From what I hear, and I hear it pretty good, the intelligence people didn’t even — many of them didn’t believe it happened at all. I think it’s a hoax. I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”