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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump came under growing pressure to respond to allegations that Russia offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, with Democrats demanding answers and accusing Trump of bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the risk of U.S. soldiers’ lives.

Frustrated House Democrats returning from a briefing at the White House on Tuesday said they learned nothing new about American intelligence assessments that suggested Russia was making overtures to militants as the U.S. and the Taliban held talks to end the conflict in Afghanistan. Senate Republicans who attended a separate briefing largely defended the president, arguing along with the White House that the intelligence was unverified.

The intelligence assessments were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that Trump had been briefed on the intelligence, a day after saying he hadn’t because it had not been verified. McEnany added that there were still reservations within the intelligence community on the veracity of the allegations.

“Make no mistake. This president will always protect American troops,” she said.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a small group of other House Democrats met with White House officials as Trump downplayed the allegations. The Democrats questioned why Trump wouldn’t have been briefed sooner and pushed White House officials to have the president make a strong statement about the matter.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of the Democrats who attended the briefing, said it was “inexplicable” why Trump won’t say publicly that he is working to get to the bottom of the issue and why he won’t call out Putin. He said Trump’s defense that he hadn’t been briefed was inexcusable.

“Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our nation ill,” Schiff said.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., a freshman and former Navy helicopter pilot and Russia policy officer, said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows briefed the group. She said the Democrats told the White House briefers that the president should make a statement.

“These are very concerning allegations and if they’re true, Russia is going to face repercussions,” Sherrill said. “We really pushed that strongly in the meeting.”

She wouldn’t say how the White House officials reacted or say if the briefers told the Democrats that in fact Trump had been briefed.

Trump and his aides set a high bar for briefing a president since it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of doubt before it is presented to senior government decision-makers.

McEnany declined to say why a different standard of confidence in the intelligence might apply to briefing lawmakers than for bringing information to the president.

Some House Republicans who were briefed by the White House on Monday also said they left with questions.

Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said the panel would “leave no stone unturned” in seeking further information. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming insisted there would be “ramifications” for any targeting of Americans.

But Senate Republicans seemed less concerned and questioned the media reports. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he didn’t think Trump should be “subjected to every rumor.”

“Conclusions, apparently, were not reached,” McConnell said.

The White House was working to schedule a briefing for Wednesday with McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Republicans and Democrats on the two intelligence committees according to a person familiar with the talks. The person declined to be identified because the so-called Gang of 8 briefing will be classified. That group receives the most sensitive information in regular meetings with administration officials.

A separate group of Senate Republicans briefed in the White House Situation Room on Tuesday appeared mostly satisfied with the answers they received. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said he was “convinced” Trump hadn’t known about the intelligence. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Trump “can’t be made aware of every piece of unverified intelligence.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio said he believed the U.S. was prepared “to do everything possible to protect our men or women stationed abroad, from a variety of threats.”

Some Republican senators did express frustration.

Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, a member of the intelligence panel, said Monday evening that Congress should focus on finding out who knew what, and when, “and did the commander in chief know? And if not, how the hell not?”

While Russian meddling in Afghanistan isn’t new, officials said Russian operatives became more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2012.

The intelligence community has been investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they traveled back to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan, officials told the AP.

Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the attack, along with an Afghan contractor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The officials the AP spoke to also said they were looking closely at insider attacks — sometimes called “green-on-blue” attacks — from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.

One official said the administration discussed several potential responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any.

Intelligence officials told the AP that the White House first became aware of alleged Russian bounties in early 2019 — a year earlier than had been previously reported. The assessments were included in one of Trump’s written daily briefings at the time, and then-national security adviser John Bolton told colleagues he had briefed Trump on the matter. Bolton declined to comment on that matter, and the White House did not respond to questions.

The intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter insisted on anonymity to discuss the highly sensitive matter.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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MATCHDAY: Barcelona needs win to keep pressure on Madrid

A look at what’s happening around European soccer on Saturday:

SPAIN

Barcelona visits Valladolid needing a win to keep alive its chances of overtaking leader Real Madrid, which leads the defending champion by four points with three matches to go. Coach Quique Setién won’t have the suspended Ansu Fati, so Antoine Griezmann will likely start up front with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez after his strong performances in the last two games. Third-place Atlético Madrid hosts Real Betis seeking a win to clinch a top-four finish and a spot in the Champions league next season. Atlético learned on Friday it will face Leipzig in the quarterfinals to be played without fans in Lisbon next month. Celta Vigo also visits Osasuna hoping to distance itself from the relegation fight.

ITALY

Atalanta’s perfect record in the restart will be put to the test when the Bergamo squad visits eight-time defending Serie A champion Juventus. Atalanta’s overall winning streak is nine in the Italian league and 11 in all competitions, including its two victories over Valencia in the Champions League round of 16. Juventus should be motivated to put on a solid performance after squandering a two-goal lead in a 4-2 loss at AC Milan on Tuesday. But the Bianconeri could feel some pressure if second-place Lazio beats Sassuolo earlier to close the gap to four points. Atalanta is third, nine points behind Juventus. In the night’s other game, Roma visits penultimate Brescia.

ENGLAND

After one season back in the Premier League, Norwich could be the first team to be relegated if the last-place side is beaten by West Ham. The London team is three points and two places above the relegation zone. Watford, which is behind West Ham on goal difference, hosts Newcastle at the same time. Liverpool, which has already won the title, is looking to become the first Premier League team to win every home game in a season. Juergen Klopp’s side hosts Burnley in its 18th — and penultimate — fixture of the campaign at Anfield. Chelsea plays away at Sheffield United after rising to third during the week as Frank Lampard’s side looks to lock down a Champions League place.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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