MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
What more are we learning about a stunning allegation that Russia has offered bounty payments to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan and that the Trump administration has known about this for months? Well, today members of Congress were trying to learn more. The White House briefed several Republicans about what the U.S. intelligence community has learned. Democrats are expected to be briefed tomorrow. We're joined now by one member of Congress who was at today's briefing - Michael McCaul of Texas. He is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he joins us now.
Congressman, welcome; good to have you with us.
MICHAEL MCCAUL: Thanks, Mary Louise. Thanks for having me.
KELLY: Having been briefed, understanding you can't get into any classified information - but is there plausible evidence that Russia did, in fact, do this; did, in fact, offer bounty payments to kill American troops?
MCCAUL: Well, I think the allegations are very serious. And if true, I think we need to take swift and severe action against Putin and his mercenaries. I can tell you that the state of play is very interesting, and this happens from time to time in the intelligence community, where you have a threat of intelligence coming in from, say, a human source, and then you have other parts of the IC examine this. In this case, it - there was a very strong dissenting view on the validity of the intelligence from another agency that I can't name but one of those three-letter agencies. And because of that, typically, when there's not an agreement within the intelligence community and there's a very - divergence and dissenting view, as in this case, what they typically - unless - you know, you can't take action unless you have credible intelligence called actionable intelligence.
KELLY: And you're saying - just to make sure I understand you correctly - that there was one intelligence agency or multiple intelligence agencies that believe there is strong evidence this happened, another one that strongly dissented.
MCCAUL: One that believed there was strong evidence and another one with a very strong dissent - and usually what happens in this type of case is the national security adviser will then walk this through the National Security Council and vet the intelligence, as what was done, you know, in this case to go through what's called the inner agency. So they were in the process of really vetting this intelligence because, if true, this would be a strong divergence. I mean, we know that the Russians have been in Afghanistan giving the Taliban funding to, you know, take out ISIS. This would be (ph) the first allegation we've seen against Americans, so it's very significant if true.
KELLY: Were you persuaded by the evidence that was laid up for you?
MCCAUL: I think there's - it's a bit confused. I think you, again, have one level of intelligence coming from one source and then you've got another from a different type of more technical intelligence that indicates that this is probably not accurate information. And so, again, you can't take action unless you have credible intelligence. I think they were in the middle of going through the process when, all of a sudden, this was leaked out. I don't know.
MCCAUL: I know there's going to be an active investigation. They have requested that the Justice Department investigate this leak. I will tell you if the allegations are true that it will be - will damage our ability to investigate what role the Russians played, if any, because they will have rolled up their operations.
KELLY: And I saw your statement that you put out this afternoon saying that any consequences, any action or response should wait until this has been investigated. There is a difference between taking action and responding and briefing the president. The White House says the president was not briefed. Did the president - was he in the meeting? Did he say that to y'all today as well?
MCCAUL: No, it was just the chief of staff, national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. They indicated to us that the president had not been briefed on this. They chose not to brief him based upon this - dissenting points of view within the IC, so we don't have a - you know, there's no - usually, they like the information to be verified across the intelligence community.
KELLY: Although on a matter as serious as the killing of American troops, is it acceptable that the intelligence community would not tell the president, hey; we - one of us thinks this happened. Somebody else doesn't. There are dissenting views, but this is something the commander in chief ought to know about.
MCCAUL: Well, I mean, it has - they have to get it right. And there is intelligence threats. There are - every day that come in; hundreds of them. The idea that they would have to brief or raise it to the president's level at, you know, all times - there's a huge volume of intelligence that comes through. They, obviously, choose which to brief him on. And they want it to be credible when they brief him. And so - at least that's what they told us, you know? And so, you know, did the president kind of wake up and say, gee; I wish I'd known about that? I don't know.
KELLY: We will leave it there for today - so many questions about this story as we continue to try to unravel what exactly happened and who knew what when. That is Texas Republican Michael McCaul, among the lawmakers who was briefed today at the White House.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
MCCAUL: Thanks, Mary Louise. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.