Amid allegations that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan, a midstate congressman is focusing on who leaked the information.
Republican Scott Perry, who represents portions of Cumberland, Dauphin, and York counties, was asked about the claims during a conference call with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Perry echoed other GOP lawmakers in arguing the intelligence was unverified and defending President Donald Trump’s lack of action to confront Russia over the bounties.
“We don’t go accusing individuals or other counties of nefarious and horrific actions that are unverified,” he said.
The retired Pennsylvania National Guardsman criticized how the information became public and whether it now could be impossible to verify it.
“Because of the political quest to damage political rivals and that is just unacceptable,” he said.
Perry did note investigators are looking into whether the death of Marine Sergeant Benjamin Hines of York last year in Afghanistan is tied to the bounties. “The fact that one of our own local hometown heroes and service members may have been involved in this certainly brings the issue home to us and makes it very, very real.”
Hines was one of two Harrisburg-based Marine Reservists killed in the bombing. The other was Staff Sergeant Christopher Slutman.
The lawmaker did add, “Absolutely,” after Scalise said decisive action needed to be taken against Russia if the allegations are true. Scalise went on to criticize the leak and defend what he called the president’s record of standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The issue took up 3:43 of the call with reporters. In total, Perry spent 1:37 addressing a question — 44 seconds discussing the need to verify the intelligence, 10 seconds talking about a midstate man killed in Afghanistan last year, and 40 seconds on the damage done by whoever leaked the story.
According to several published reports, the Trump Administration was aware of the classified intelligence concerning the bounties in early 2019.
Several members of Congress in both parties are calling for additional information and potential consequences for Russia.
The congressman did express concern over Russia’s potential involvement on social media:
Before a rush to judgement or a decision on retaliatory actions, we need the facts. I lament the loss of any Service Member's life, and I’d be very concerned about reports that Russia offered bounties to kill American and coalition Troops in Afghanistan. https://t.co/Ok6mw4DvMM
— RepScottPerry (@RepScottPerry) June 30, 2020
Transcript of Congressman Scott Perry’s answer:
PA Post’s Ed Mahon:
How should the U.S. respond to intelligence assessments that say Russia puts bounties on the heads of U.S. servicemen. The AP (Associated Press) reported that one of the servicemen that’s being examined is from York County — Benjamin Hines. How should the U.S. respond?
Well, Ed, I’m certainly happy to answer your questions about that, and I’ll answer this one.
Look, the U.S. needs to respond by first verifying the information, right? We don’t go accusing individuals or other countries of nefarious and horrific actions that are unverified.
Right now, as of this moment, as far as I know, DOD (Department of Defense) rejects and does not have any information to corroborate the claim. The intelligence agencies are also…they can’t verify or at least, some of the intelligence agencies are in conflict with that claim. So, until said time, what needs to be done, of course, is that verify that information and then figure out how we’re going to proceed.
Of course, the fact that one of our own local, hometown heroes and service members may have been involved in this, certainly brings the issue right home to us and makes it very, very real.
But the other concern, quite honestly, is…and I think we should be outraged about that someone would leak this for political purposes and imperil the possibility of ever finding out if this is true and then finding out who’s responsible for it. That might have all been compromised now, because of the political quest to damage political rivals.
That is just…that is unacceptable. We should also, while we’re looking at and be thinking about, ‘Is this true?’ and verifying that and then if it is true, dealing with that. We should also be vigorously seeking to find out who leaked this classified information and prosecuting them for that, as well.
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