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The Morning Dispatch: Russian Bounties and Lots of Questions
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The Morning Dispatch: Russian Bounties and Lots of Questions

The White House will have trouble casting this story as a partisan concern.

Happy Monday! Let’s do this.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Sunday night, 2,548,992 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 38,655 from yesterday) and 125,803 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 264 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.9 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 30,988,013 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (586,369 conducted since yesterday), 8.2 percent have come back positive.

  • The New York Times reported that Russian military intelligence extended bounties incentivizing Taliban militants to kill American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

  • President Trump retweeted a video on Sunday of a supporter from the Villages—a retirement community in Florida—shouting “white power.” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said Trump was unaware the white supremacist slogan had been used in the video and the tweet has since been deleted.

  • The House approved a bill on Friday to grant Washington, D.C., statehood by a vote of 232-180. The vote was primarily symbolic; the move is opposed by Senate Republicans and the White House.

  • In the wake of nationwide anti-racism protests, Mississippi lawmakers passed a bill yesterday requiring the removal of the Confederate battle emblem from the state’s flag.

  • Princeton University’s board of trustees announced on Saturday its plans to rename the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, stating, “racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms.”

Russians Paid Off Taliban Insurgents to Kill Coalition Troops in Afghanistan

A Russian military spy unit bribed Taliban militants to kill American troops and other coalition forces in Afghanistan last year, according to a stunning news report Friday in the New York Times, sourced to American intelligence officials. The White House is facing tough questions from Democrats and top Republicans about the reporting, especially after it was confirmed by officials familiar with the matter that several U.S. troops are believed to have been killed by Taliban militants who had been paid off by Russians.

The Times reported that President Trump was briefed on the intelligence and the National Security Council took it up during a meeting in March. NSC spokesman John Ullyot said that “the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.” The administration has denied that Trump was briefed on the intelligence, although several news outlets—including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post—have matched and expanded on the initial reporting from the Times. 

The president denied the allegations on Twitter Sunday evening.

President Trump also demanded on Twitter that the New York Times publicly name its sources: “Bet they can’t do it, this ‘person’ probably does not even exist!” The president’s claims contradict reports from several anonymous American intelligence officials, who said this weekend that the United States has been planning to take action against the Kremlin since late spring. The officials also said that the White House reassessed the incident in briefings this week and shared information with the British government. 

Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday that neither she nor any other House or Senate leaders were briefed on the incident prior to the Times’s article. “This is as bad as it gets and yet the president will not confront the Russians,” Pelosi said in an interview on ABC’s This Week.

But the White House will have a difficult time casting this as a partisan concern. Several top Republicans demanded answers, too.

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal, added: “This is exactly right. We need answers.” Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a pilot in the Air National Guard, chimed in as well. 

According to the Times’ reporting, some of the intelligence came from U.S. interrogations of captured Afghan jihadists and criminals. The U.S. began investigating possible payments when U.S. Special Forces and intelligence operatives found a large stash of American cash at a “Taliban outpost,” according to a subsequent report by the Times. Sixteen American troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2019.

The Trump administration denied that the president was briefed on the matter but did not address reporting that Russians paid bounties to Taliban insurgents to kill coalition troops. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Saturday that her statement on the matter “does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story.” Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe claimed neither the president nor the vice president were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday” in a statement on Saturday. 

The bounties are thought to be linked to GRU, Russia’s military and foreign intelligence agency, which has engaged in covert military operations against Western powers in the past. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied the accusation as propaganda and Dmitry Peskov—the press secretary for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia—denied any knowledge of the allegations. 

This incident complicates ongoing talks between the Taliban and U.S. officials to withdraw 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by this fall.

The Taliban rejected the allegations as a smear campaign to defame the group and interrupt its ongoing peace talks with the United States. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, called the allegations “baseless.” Mujahid told the Times, “our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources.” He also said that the armed group no longer attacks American troops, citing the February peace deal between U.S. and the Taliban officials which sought an end to the countries’ eighteen year conflict.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden called Trump’s presidency a “gift” to Vladimir Putin in a news briefing on Saturday. “It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas,” he said. “I’m quite frankly outraged by the report, and if I’m elected president, make no mistake about it, Vladimir Putin will be confronted.”

Worth Your Time 

  • Dan McLaughlin’s latest National Review piece challenges New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie’s claim that “neither Abraham Lincoln nor the Republican Party freed the slaves.” Bouie’s argument is part of a larger push by some on the left to reframe American history, particularly in the context of race, as a diegesis of unceasing white supremacist oppression. But while this narrative contains “elements of uncontroversial truth,” McLaughlin writes, many of “its most sweeping claims are false—and the true parts are merely tools for advancing the falsehood.” 

  • FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone writes about the Republican Party’s long-standing race problem, tracing the party’s relationship with racial minorities back to the mid-20th century when moderates like Michigan Gov. George Romney were pushed out of the party in favor of anti-civil rights hardliners. In the decades following, the GOP wavered between earnest attempts to expand its coalition and cynical ploys to capitalize on racial divisions, with little success in broadening their appeal to black and brown voter bases. And, Malone argues, the party’s persistent inability to meaningfully expand its political coalition beyond white Americans is what led to the systematic voter suppression efforts that are still on display in some areas of the country today. 

  • Frank Bruni’s Saturday New York Times op-ed picks up the case that Steve has made on The Dispatch Podcast: Joe Biden should pick Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth as his vice presidential running mate. “She’s the anti-Trump,” Bruni writes. “The antidote to the ugliness he revels in and the cynicism he stokes.” Comparing Duckworth—an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs in combat—to Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, two other frontrunners for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, Bruni writes that Duckworth “is a choice that makes exquisite emotional and moral sense. Largely, but not entirely, because of that, she makes strategic sense, too.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • New York Times national politics reporter and Twitter celebrity Astead Herndon joined Sarah and Steve for the most recent special episode of The Dispatch Podcast to discuss Astead’s recent trip to cover Trump’s rally in Tulsa, the veepstakes, and all things rank and punditrous.

  • Grace and charity are two virtues that can no longer be found in contemporary politics, and yesterday’s French Press explains why. David analyzes the ways in which Americans across the political divide misconstrue one another’s intentions, resulting in a positive feedback loop of hostility and polarization.

  • Friday’s installment of the G-File delves into the moral panic caused when we retroactively apply the cultural and moral standards of today to nondescript behavior by public figures in the past, before outlining Trump’s biggest adversary in his reelection efforts: Trump. 

  • And Jonah’s Saturday Ruminant this week was an old-school, back-to-basics “pox on both your houses”-type episode, with a history lesson on the origins of “social Darwinism” thrown in for good measure.

  • In the latest Dispatch Fact Check, Alec debunks viral claims that the Trump campaign used hired actors and Trump staffers to inflate the attendance of last Saturday’s Tulsa rally.

  • Jeryl Bier compares a New York Times story that described the riots that grew out of the George Floyd protests as “some isolated incidents of violence” with other coverage the paper did that described thousands of businesses being damaged and hundreds of people being arrested.

  • Avi Woolf highlights some of the more egregious examples of “cancel culture” from woke leftists, and suggests that conservatives must respond not by caving or with knee-jerk opposition, but by working to improve our cultural institutions.

Let Us Know

We’re pulling our question for you from yesterday’s French Press—so give it a read if you haven’t already.

Let us know of a time you were pleasantly surprised by how much you had in common with a political “opponent.”

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images.