The U.S. is investigating claims that the deaths of three Marines, including one from Delaware, may have been tied to Russian bounties.
US Marine Corps Reserve Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Brandywine Hundred, was killed, alongside two other Marines, in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan, in 2019.
"The Russians have become more and more aggressive under Putin, have done more and more disruptive things, of course, interfering in our 2016 election," said U.S. Senator Chris Coons.
Wednesday, President Donald Trump claimed that he was not briefed on potential Russian bounties on US troops, including because it "didn't rise to the occasion," and that "many" intelligence officers "didn't believe it happened at all."
Trump made the claim despite conflicting reports -- including a U.S. official telling CNN that intelligence about the bounties was included in the President's Daily Brief sometime this spring.
"I'm sure I don't see many things that they don't think rose to the occasion," Trump said, while claiming not to have been briefed on the intelligence.
"This didn't rise to the occasion. And from what I hear -- and I hear it pretty good, the intelligence people -- 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," Trump told Fox Business in a Wednesday interview.
Trump said if there was a situation in which Russians put a bounty on US troops lives they would "hear about it."
"First of all, they'd hear about it. But we never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level. Where it would rise to that," he said.
"This was something that never got presented to me, and they know that, never got presented because it didn't rise to that level," the president said.
The White House was provided with intelligence in early 2019 indicating Russian actors were offering bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan, more than a year before Trump claimed he was not briefed on the same threat, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The White House had repeatedly denied Trump had been "personally briefed" on similar intelligence this year, claiming the assessment "wasn't verified."
But a U.S. official familiar with the latest information told CNN that intelligence about the Russian bounties was included in the President's Daily Brief sometime in the spring. The written document includes the intelligence community's most important and urgent information.
U.S. Senator Chris Coons called the whole thing "shocking."
"I find it simply shocking both that there is now widespread reporting that Russians provided cash bounties for the killings of Americans NATO troops, and that this is something that either our president was either not briefed on, not aware of, or took no action in response to over the last year," Coons told WDEL's Del-AWARE. "He has spoken to Putin a half-dozen times in the last year, the idea that this fairly critical issue about protecting the safety of our troops and our nation is something that he didn't know about, which is what he's alleging, or did not take action in response to, I find gravely concerning."
U.S. Senator Tom Carper is calling on the Trump Administration to release any information they have, including when they learned of the alleged threat.
"We are also deeply concerned by reports that the Administration was aware of this threat as far back as February 2019. For SSgt Slutman, for his fellow fallen Marines, for their families and for any service members who have potentially been put in harm’s way, Congress and the American people need the truth, and we need it immediately," he said in a written statement.
Carper also called on all members of Congress to receive classified briefings on the matter from members of the intelligence community.
“[They] can provide a clear and consistent timeline and speak with authority on what was known about Russia’s efforts to target U.S. service members, who was briefed on that intelligence, and when those briefings took place. Congress must also be informed about what response, if any, was considered to hold our adversaries accountable. And, finally, Congress needs to hear what is currently being done – and what we need to be doing going forward – to keep our men and women in uniform safe," said Carper.
Coons said the US should be doing more to treat Russia like the "aggressive, hostile power" that it is.
"They have simply gotten more and more assertive and have done more and more outrageous things. There are things that many senators are aware of from classified briefings that I think make it clear, that his is not a hoax, and if not responded to promptly, we are going to see even more disturbing things happening that put the United States at risk."