Is anyone surprised that the Russians offered bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill American and British troops?
Outraged, yes. But surprised, probably not.
Russia is our enemy, after all, notwithstanding President Donald Trump's continuing infatuation with all things Russian. You may recall Trump's invitation to Vladimir Putin to attend the next G-7 meeting and his unrelenting push to reshape the Group of Seven leading industrial nations to a G-8 club that includes Russia, which was excluded after Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
But what should be as surprising as it is outrageous is that intelligence sources have told several news organizations — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among others — that Trump, Pence and the National Security Council and European allies were briefed about the development in March.
They were briefed, and neither our president nor our vice president did anything about it.
Except to deny it three months later.
Trump took to Twitter (of course) Sunday to say he was never briefed "about the so-called attacks" on our troops. On Sunday night he doubled down, tweeting "Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP"
Clearly someone is lying. Care to offer any odds on whom?
One senior administration official offered a similar explanation to The Times, saying that Trump was not briefed because the intelligence agencies had come to no consensus on the findings.
"But another official said there was broad agreement that the intelligence assessment was accurate, with some complexities because different aspects of the intelligence — including interrogations and surveillance data — resulted in some differences among agencies in how much confidence to put in each type," The Times wrote Monday in an update.
Still another official had told The Times that the report was "briefed to the highest levels of the White House" and yet another said it was included in the President's Daily Brief, a compendium of foreign police and national security intelligence compiled for Trump to read.
"Several people familiar with the matter" told The Washington Post that is "unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program" — the program being that a Russian military intelligence unit known as the GRU.
But set all of that aside for the moment:
Wouldn't it be absurd for this not to be briefed to the president of the United States? After all, just a month before the U.S. and the Taliban signed a deal to end the war there.
Think further: If he hadn't already been briefed and was just learning of it, shouldn't we expect his Sunday tweets to demand an immediate and full-scale investigation and some repercussions against Russia?
But no. Instead he referred to the bounties as "so-called attacks" and suggested the information was "possibly another fabricated Russian Hoax" spread by the "Fake News ...."
Trump passed blame and responsibility. I didn't know, he claimed. It's intel's fault. It's the media's fault.
Four years into watching this Trump and Russia tango, why shouldn't we see this as just another typical Trump blessing to Putin and the GRU — the same organization with 12 members under indictment thanks to the Mueller probe for plotting to turn Americans' opinions with fake social media bots to get Trump elected in the first place.
That's certainly how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sees it.
"This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score," she said of the bounty report. "I don't know what the Russians have on the president — politically, personally, financially, or whatever it is," she added. "Now he is saying this is fake news – why would he say that? Why wouldn't he say, 'Let's look into it and see what this is?'"
John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser who was ousted from the White House last September, said Trump's response on Twitter sums up his presidential decision-making on national security issues. "It's just unconnected to the reality he's dealing with."
But it's more than that.
It's our commander-in-chief — the one all cozied up to a government that has placed and apparently paid bounties on our soldiers' heads — refusing to be the patriot he pretends to be when he wraps himself in our flag.
This November, he has to go.