Trump Says He Did Not Ask Putin About Suspected Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops

Mr. Trump has long taken pains to avoid personally criticizing Mr. Putin and even seemed intent on downplaying evidence of broader Russian military and financial support for the Taliban.

Asked about claims to that effect by the former top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., Mr. Trump dismissed the notion. “I didn’t ask Nicholson about that,” he said, before saying that the general “didn’t have great success” in his command, which ended in 2018.

Mr. Trump also suggested to Axios that Russia’s provision of arms to the Taliban was a kind of understandable payback for America’s backing of fighters opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.

“We supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia, too,” Mr. Trump said.

Some senior congressional Democrats said that believe that top American officers who have spoken about the issue — like General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — are taking it seriously. But the lawmakers said they have much less faith in Mr. Trump and many of his top civilian national security aides.

“I do not have confidence that the national security team writ large within the Trump administration is committed to getting to the bottom of this and dealing with it,” said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who heads the House Armed Services Committee.

Asked about the bounty reports by Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, at a July 22 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the deputy secretary of state, Stephen E. Biegun, cautioned that he had to avoid discussing classified information in public. But he insisted that administration officials would take action if there were even a suggestion that Russia was putting bounties on American service members.

“Any suggestion that the Russian Federation, or any part of the Russian government, is employed in providing resources to fighters from other countries to attack American soldiers will be met,” he said, with “the most severe consequences.”

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