How big is the Trump-Russia scandal

Taliban bounty affair : This scandal could actually endanger Trump

Even if it is difficult to believe in view of all the inconsequential excitement: This affair could actually be dangerous for the US president. "Bountygate" is the name given to the scandal surrounding the "bounties" allegedly paid by the Russian secret service for the Taliban, which kill US soldiers. It touches on an existentially important relationship of Donald Trump: that with the military - and especially with the many veterans in the country.

There are around 20 million former soldiers in the United States. Trump owes a large part of his election in 2016 to them. It was they who, after his election promises to invest a lot of money in the defense of the country, gave him massive support in some highly competitive states, for example in Florida. And that although Donald Trump once let himself be exempt from military service.

But now, a good four months before the election, this ratio is being tested by reports that the president either ignored or, not much better, knew nothing about the perfidious Russian intentions.

Democratic presidential candidate-designate Joe Biden accused Trump of "breach of duty" if the president was informed and did not act. The opposition accused him of endangering the lives of soldiers.

Trump doesn't want to have known anything

Trump denies having been briefed by his intelligence services about the possible attacks on US soldiers and Western allies in Afghanistan. This is contradicted by the "New York Times", which was the first to report on the rewards for radical Islamic Taliban and other militias. According to the newspaper, which cites intelligence information, he was reported to have received a written notice of the bounty findings in February.

Research by other US media confirmed this. According to the AP news agency, the information is said to have been known in the White House as early as the spring of 2019. According to this, the former National Security Advisor John Bolton is said to have informed the President personally.

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The White House contradicts reports that Trump was personally briefed. However, it indirectly confirmed that the relevant information existed. Many actually think it is conceivable that Trump simply could not have read such explosive information. Or didn't care.

The US president thinks little of his services

It's no great secret that he thinks little of intelligence workers when they have bad news. At the summit meeting with Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in summer 2018, he publicly questioned the findings of his own services about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So did he just not want to take notice of the allegations?

Trump's spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany felt compelled on Wednesday to declare that Trump was "the best-informed president on planet earth," especially when it comes to the threats to his country. And yes, she emphasized, he reads reports.

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The question of what was clear to Trump and when is of great importance. Because if he knew about the allegations at the time when he suggested a few weeks ago to invite Russia to the upcoming G-7 summit in the USA, his behavior would be difficult to understand. At least sanctions should have been due, they say.

Critics accuse him of being too lenient towards Russia

Nothing has happened, at least as far as is known. That is why those critics who have been accusing the US president for years of being far too cautious, even submissive, towards Russia and Putin feel confirmed once again.

Bolton's successor as National Security Advisor, Robert O'Brien, defended on Wednesday the decision not to initially inform the President personally about relevant findings. The information was not sufficiently confirmed, said O'Brien.

The decision was made by a high-ranking CIA officer who distrusted the reports and refrained from informing Trump personally. He supports this stance, said O'Brien. And added that Trump is now fully informed.

It is also not exactly a source of confidence that the President initially spoke again of "fake news", of a "made up story that is only told to harm me and the Republican Party". The secret source of the "New York Times" may not even exist, he tweeted, and asked the newspaper to disclose its sources.

Even Republicans are demanding clarification

Pressure on Trump to clarify the intelligence information and a possible US reaction in the affair is now coming from both parties in Congress. Criticism is also increasingly voiced by veterans who are actually close to the Republican Party.

"I think he doesn't care about our troops," said Navy veteran and former member of Congress from North Carolina, Shawn LeMond. "If he didn't know about Russia, it was because he didn't do his damn homework. And that's pathetic." LeMond, along with a number of prominent Republicans, has announced that it will vote for Biden in the November election. Other veterans made similar statements.

It is far from being Trump's first conflict with the military. When he attacked the critical Republican Senator John McCain in the 2016 election campaign and accused the war hero of allowing himself to be captured, it was not at all well received. Many also reacted angrily when Trump abandoned the Kurdish allies in northern Syria at the end of 2019.

After the threat of a military operation against demonstrators, there was great displeasure

And when he threatened the use of soldiers during the protests after the African-American George Floyd, who died in police custody a month ago, and had peaceful demonstrators driven away with tear gas and rubber bullets in front of the White House, several high-ranking veterans criticized him sharply.

Even his former defense minister, Jim Mattis, who had remained in silence for a long time after his departure at the end of 2018, spoke up afterwards: Trump was the first president in his lifetime to try to divide the country. The Americans should protest against this, demanded the highly decorated veteran.

The Kremlin speaks of "lies"

Meanwhile, the affair continues. The New York Times reports on major financial transfers that could be related to the affair. It is intercepted data from transfers from a bank account controlled by Russian military intelligence to an account linked to the Taliban.

The newspaper cites three unnamed officials from intelligence circles as the source. In their view, this supports the assumption that Russia may have secretly paid bounties for the killing of US troops in Afghanistan.

In connection with the bounty thesis, a car bomb attack in April 2019 is mentioned, in which three marines are said to have been killed. According to the Washington Post, the CIA had investigated and "confirmed" the information about the Russian bounty. The Kremlin describes the media reports as "lies".

For Trump, the matter is far from over. The fact that this scandal also falls at a time when the president is losing approval because of his handling of the corona crisis and in the surveys makes it extremely dangerous.

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