Dems say no ‘substantive information’ at White House briefing on Russian bounties

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who also attended, echoed Hoyer’s concerns. Schiff said he’s seeking an in-person briefing from the intel community as well as documentation.

“The right people to give the briefing really were not in the room,” Schiff said.

The briefing kicked off another day of rising fury among Democrats, who were shut out of a Monday White House briefing that included only a handful of Republican lawmakers while the White House and Trump offered conflicting versions of events. The bounty allegations, first reported Friday by The New York Times, have raised alarm in both parties about a grave threat to American troops — and demands for a U.S. response if the allegations bear out.

The issue has escalated as Trump insisted he was never briefed on the matter, despite news reports to the contrary, and took to Twitter to suggest it was a “hoax.”

Democrats say they were left with the impression that Trump was not briefed on the intelligence, though they declined to provide details. They continued to express skepticism about his claims of ignorance, and said even if the intelligence was not absolutely conclusive, Trump should have been briefed on it as he weighed diplomatic relations with Russia.

“If the president doesn’t read, the president doesn’t read, and they should know that by now,” Schiff said of the president’s daily intelligence reports. If you’re going to be on the phone with Vladimir Putin, this is something you ought to know.”

For Democrats, the episode is another example of Trump genuflecting to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Though the Times reported Trump was briefed on the intelligence as early as February, Trump has since sought Russia’s reentry into the G7 and spoken repeatedly with Putin by phone.

Democrats are now reiterating their demands for a full briefing beyond the group that attended on Tuesday — and to hear directly from intelligence officials. Hoyer said he repeatedly asked White House officials for such a briefing, but left without an assurance that it would happen.

The meeting came just hours after the New York Times reported on Monday that Trump was briefed on the intelligence in late February, earlier than previously reported.

Trump has denied knowing about the intelligence despite it being included in a written briefing for the president in February, according to the Times. And White House officials defending the president seem to have adopted a strategy of parsing words — saying that Trump wasn’t briefed because the information wasn’t vocally conveyed to him, discounting the written intelligence briefing the president receives.

Other Democrats in attendance Tuesday included Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (Wash.) and a mix of Democrats who serve on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services panels — Reps. Brad Sherman (Calif.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Bill Keating (Mass).

The White House will meet separately on Tuesday with a group of Senate Republicans after briefing a handpicked group of House Republicans Monday. A larger group of senators was given access to intelligence documents related to the Russian bounties late Monday, and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) quickly rebutted Trump’s claim that the news stories were a “hoax.”

“And if you continue ignoring the facts, more soldiers and marines are going to die.,” Murphy said.

In a statement overnight, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the intelligence didn’t rise to the level of informing the president, despite reports of the administration being aware of the bounties for months.

“Nevertheless, the administration, including the National Security Council staff, have been preparing should the situation warrant action,” O’Brien said.

Despite O’Brien’s statement, the intelligence community found the bounty claims credible enough to include in a classified CIA intelligence document distributed to U.S. officials across the world, according to the Times.

O’Brien’s comments came after a day of shifting explanations from Trump and the White House. Though top officials said on Saturday Trump hadn’t been briefed, Trump tweeted Sunday night that “intel” had informed him the allegations were not “credible.” Yet by Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany continued to insist the president hadn’t been briefed, even as briefings were being arranged for lawmakers.

On Tuesday morning, Trump continued his strategy of highlighting pundits raising questions about the veracity of the intelligence, retweeting a dismissive comment from Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera who mischaracterized the Times reporting of the episode.

But the White House has so far resisted calls from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who have demanded all members in both chambers receive a briefing from the administration. Pelosi and Trump have a particularly frayed relationship and the two haven’t spoken since October, when Democrats walked out of a White House briefing on Syria after the president insulted the speaker.

Democrats have sharply criticized what they say is further proof of the Trump administration’s clear politicization of what are typically bipartisan intelligence briefings relayed to congressional leaders and pertinent members in both chambers, regardless of political party.

Instead of a “Gang of 8” briefing — which would include leaders of both the House and Senate and the Intelligence committees — or all members on certain committees, a mishmash group of lawmakers are being summoned to the White House, divided into groups based on whether they’re Republicans or Democrats.

Still, senior Democrats and Republicans said Monday they would continue to press the White House for answers on the bounty intelligence. But how the two parties seek to message the controversy will be a different matter — Democrats have long accused the president of being soft on Russia and have questioned Trump’s apparent admiration of its authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin.

Though Trump’s allies say he’s been tough on Russia, Trump has repeatedly accepted Putin’s word — over the verdict of U.S. intelligence agencies — about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he’s helped promote baseless Russian narratives about a Ukrainian plot in the election instead. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence leaders say Russia is poised to interfere again in the 2020 election and has worked to destabilize western alliances.

Republicans, meanwhile, have turned their outrage more towards administration officials, questioning the veracity of the intelligence and whether the president was even briefed on the claims, despite news reports to the contrary.

“It is important to be cautious on intelligence writ large, because when it’s proven to not be accurate, it can lead to things like a war or other measures that proved to be counterproductive,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters.

Jake Sherman contributed to this report.