• Reuters, Bloomberg

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The White House on Saturday denied that President Donald Trump was briefed on reported U.S. intelligence that Russia’s military offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with Democratic rival Joe Biden criticizing Trump for failing to take action against Moscow.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that “neither the president nor the vice president (Mike Pence) were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.” The statement, McEnany said, did not address the “merit of the alleged intelligence” reported on Friday by the New York Times.

A Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe offered rewards for successful attacks last year on American and coalition troops, the Times reported. The newspaper reported that Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, were believed to have collected some bounty money.

Trump was told about the intelligence but had not authorized steps to retaliate, the Times reported.

Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate set to challenge Trump in the Nov. 3 election, said during a virtual town hall on Saturday that the Times report, if true, represents a “truly shocking revelation,” noting in particular Trump’s reported failure to retaliate.

“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden said, referring to the Russian president.

Biden pledged retaliation if he becomes president.

“If I’m elected president, make no mistake about it, Vladimir Putin will be confronted and we’ll impose serious costs on Russia,” Biden said.

Democratic lawmakers also criticized Trump about the report. “They put bounties on the heads of American soldiers and Trump thought the ‘ask them to stop’ option presented by his advisors was too harsh,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

A key Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said it was “imperative Congress get to the bottom of” the allegations about Russia. “I expect the Trump administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports,” the South Carolina Republican said on Twitter.

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