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Trump didn't know, still doesn't know, we dispute the intelligence, and it's all the media's fault.

The White House is now putting all their weight behind a narrow denial of The New York Times' report citing intelligence officials who exposed a Russian program offering bounties for the successful killing of U.

S. military personnel in Afghanistan. In a press briefing, newest press secretary and ex-Fox News talking head Kayleigh McEnany claimed that Trump himself had never been briefed on the Russian actions, and still hasn't been, due to "dissenting opinions" about the accuracy of the intelligence reports.

That's almost certainly going to turn out to be a lie, especially given the Trump team's regular willingness to tell outlandish and provable lies on any topic they are asked about. But the White House is basing the majority of their argument around the claim that even if Russians have indeed been successful in spurring the murders of U.S. soldiers, nobody bothered to tell Donald Trump or Mike Pence about it. Whether American soldiers have died due to a Russian "bounty" program is of less immediate importance to the White House than defending Donald Trump from the responsibility of even knowing about it.

In a meeting today, Trump administration officials (and recent House Republicans) John Ratcliffe and Mark Meadows briefed a small set of sycophantic Republican lawmakers on what the talking points defending Trump would be. We know precisely what was decided on because Rep. Jim Banks immediately tweeted out the results after the meeting. He blamed the Times for reporting an "ONGOING" investigation, claiming "blood is on their hands." He also repeated, verbatim, Trump's own ridiculous and asinine claim that "[n]o President in my lifetime has been tougher on Russia than Trump"—a statement simply at odds with provable reality.

We can gather, then, that the House Republican response will be to burp out literal White House talking points, absolve Trump of all responsibility not just for knowing about the Russian plan but for responding to it now, and declare that whatever else happens is all the fault of the "the media."

That the White House rushed to brief House Republicans while shutting out Democratic lawmakers is telling. It was only after the Republican meeting that a time was set for a separate Democratic briefing, which is not until 8 AM tomorrow. We can only imagine how the content of the two meetings might differ.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been so consistently rocked by scandal, especially on all things Russia-related, that we can predict the next revelations this time around as well. It will come out that the reports of multiple news outlets on Trump being briefed in March are, in fact, correct. It will come out that the "dissenting opinions" the Trump team is basing Trump's unwillingness to act upon are, in fact, "dissenting opinions" offered up by the most partisan and least qualified officials in Trump's orbit, the same officials who shielded Trump from the full impact of Mueller's investigation of Russian election interference, Trump's extortion of an at-war Russian foe, Trump's use of the presidency for self-enrichment, Trump's numerous alleged tax evasion schemes, and so forth.

It is vanishingly unlikely that intelligence officials willing to leak, to multiple news outlets, the existence of a Russian program to kill American soldiers would do so without substantial evidence that the program existed and that the Trump team was for some reason blocking action from being taken in response. It is far more likely that Trump's team, yet again, has willingly sold out U.S. national security for their own gain and the gain of their extravagantly corrupt leader.

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Iran Denies U.S. Seizure of Iranian Arms on Way to Houthis in Yemen

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran on Thursday denied that U.S. forces had seized a boat carrying Iranian weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying the charge was aimed at extending a U.N. arms embargo on Tehran.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Washington on Wednesday that U.S. and unidentified allied forces had interdicted a vessel off Yemen's coast on June 28 that was carrying Iranian arms to the Houthis.

"Lying, accusations and spreading hatred are key elements of America's foreign policy, especially in the current regime," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, quoted by state television. "Pompeo's remarks stem from this approach."

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has taken a hardline with the United Nations to push it to strengthen the embargo on Iran, saying that lifting it would allow Tehran to acquire weapons that could fuel conflicts in the Middle East.

"Americans are trying to provide excuses to continue their maximum pressure on Iran, advance their malicious goals and to extend the arms embargo on Iran," Mousavi said.

Relations between the longtime foes have worsened since 2018 when Trump abandoned an international accord under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.

The United States has reimposed sanctions to throttle Iran's oil trade and pressure Tehran to renegotiate the deal, give up its ballistic missiles, and cease its involvement in regional wars.

Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have been fighting the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, since 2015. It denies charges by Saudi Arabia and the United States that it gives financial and military support to the Houthis.

"The United States and Saudi Arabia have imposed a siege on the Yemeni people," Mousavi said. "With such baseless accusations, they are trying to evade accountability and responsibility for their crimes in Yemen."

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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