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Hoyer Remarks at Press Conference Following White House Briefing on Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks at a press conference following a White House briefing on Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Below is a transcript of his remarks.

“Good morning. Thank you for being here. Sunday evening I received a telephone call from my former colleague, Mark Meadows, now the Chief of Staff at the White House, who asked me to put together a group of eight to 10 members for the purposes of having a briefing in the SCIF at the White House. I indicated to him I would consider that. I talked to the Speaker about it. Our view has been and always been if the White House asked you to come down for a meeting and to be briefed, you respond to that request. At the same time, I told Mr. Meadows yesterday, and I repeated a couple of times today that this briefing was not, and I emphasized, was not a substitute for the Speaker and Minority Leader of the Senate's request for a full briefing of our Members. At any time when you have a threat to American personnel, whether they be military or civilian, it is a serious matter and needs to be taken with the utmost importance and utmost concern.

“I think it's fair to say, as my Republican colleagues said yesterday, all of us are concerned that there would be payments from Russia – who is not a friendly entity, who is not an ally, who has undermined our elections, and who has done everything they can in Afghanistan and other places in the world to undermine U.S. interests. It is, therefore, very, very troubling when you have information that is given that indicates that there are payments being made to specifically target U.S. personnel, particularly armed services personnel. So, I was looking forward to a briefing. I would have preferred the briefing -- and I said this to Mr. Meadows – that the briefing had been given by intel personnel, either from CIA Director Haspel, in particular, or NSA, so that we would have the direct evidence and discussion from the intelligence community as to how credible they assessed the information. But I also agree with John Bolton who said it was inconceivable, from his perspective, that there is not a cause for briefing on this matter of such importance. Apparently, that did not happen.

“The President called this a hoax publicly. Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax. There may be different judgments as to the level of credibility, but there was no assertion that the information we had was a hoax.

“I took to this briefing Mr. [Eliot] Engel, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Mr. [Adam] Schiff, the Chairman of the Intel Committee; Mr. Smith, the Chairman of the [Armed Services] Committee; Mr. [Gregory] Meeks and Mr. [Brad] Sherman, who are the ranking members behind Mr. Engel on the Foreign Affairs Committee; Ms. [Abigail] Spanberger; Ms. [Elissa] Slotkin; Mr. [Bill] Keating; and Ms. [Mikie] Sherrill. All of them have experience or particular responsibilities in the intel and national security sphere.

“I thought this briefing was the White House personnel telling us their perspective. I think we knew the White House perspective. What we need to know is the intelligence perspective, so I am therefore urging the White House and the Chief of Staff to follow up on my request to make sure that we are briefed by the Intelligence Community directly so that we can get to the bottom of this. I’m sure that Mr. Schiff will be following up on this through the Intel Committee, as I have urged him to do. So, without further discussion, let me now yield to Mr. Schiff.”

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“I also want to say, specifically, that as I think all of you know, Ms. Spanberger and Ms. Slotkin have direct involvement in the Intelligence Community. Ms. Slotkin worked in the White House for a number of years. Ms. Spanberger served oversees for the Central Intelligence Agency and, obviously, spent time at the agency . Both Members are very knowledgeable. Ms. Sherril I want to thank you for bringing your national security perspective to the meeting. The bottom line is, this does not substitute for a longer briefing with all of the members. After all, as the President pointed out, the central issue in this case was whether or not Russia is paying bounties to the Taliban for the purposes of killing American armed services personal or civilians. We have no higher duty than to protect our men and women that we send into harms way. This was a red flag. It either was not waved, or the President ignored the wave. President Truman said, ‘the buck stops here,’ President Trump says, ‘I never saw the buck.’ This is a serious matter, and we need to make sure that Members of Congress and the public know whether or not our relationship with Russia is compromised by the relationship between the President and Mr. Putin. That is a danger to our country if that is the case, and this matter needs to be gotten to the bottom of.  

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  “I want to thank all of the Members here who, on less than a 24 hours’ notice, agreed to come down. They are all very much involved in the committees of jurisdiction which will have personal responsibility for this issue that will not be put at rest until we have a full briefing from the Intelligence Community. I appreciate the White House comments and their views, but [we must be briefed] by the Intel Community itself. Again, I thank Ms. Spanberger, Ms. Slotkin, and Ms. Sherill for the expertise they brought to it, as well as Mr. [Ruben] Gallego, who served and his troops were attacked and targeted, and Mr. Keating, who raised a number of critical issues with reference to the actions by the President that are advantageous to Russia or could be perceived as such. I want to thank, of course, the two members of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well, of course, Mr. Schiff, who is our expert, and Mr. Engel as well.”  
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