Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, along with other Democrats, accused former President Trump during the 2020 campaign of having a soft spot for President Vladimir Putin following a New York Times report last year that Russia placed bounties on the heads of American soldiers.
Fast-forward to this week and U.S. intelligence officials on Thursday revealed they have “low to moderate” confidence in that story.
Now, Biden’s campaign’s comments where he used the story as a talking point against Trump are resurfacing.
“The truly shocking revelation … if the Times report is true, and I emphasize that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months, according to the Times, and done worse than nothing,” Biden, then the presumptive Democratic nominee, said in a town hall last June.
“Not only has he failed to sanction and impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden said of his then-opponent.
Biden called it a “betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation — to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”
He said Americans who serve in the military put their life on the line. “But they should never, never, never ever face a threat like this with their commander in chief turning a blind eye to a foreign power putting a bounty on their heads,” he said.
“I’m quite frankly outraged by the report,” Biden said. He promised that, if elected, “Putin will be confronted and we’ll impose serious costs on Russia.”
After the Times reported that Russia had offered to pay Taliban fighters to kill U.S. soldiers, Trump remained defiant in calling the story a “hoax.” He said he had not been briefed on the report before it was leaked to the media. The Washington Post followed up with a report that the bounties had resulted in multiple U.S. casualties.
Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, demanded the Trump administration explain what it knew after the report broke.
At the time, Trump’s White House had insisted the president wasn’t briefed on the assessments because they hadn’t been verified, though some were skeptical as it’s rare for intelligence to be confirmed 100% before being relayed to the president. But the Times reported that both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed on the report and had failed to act.
Asked on Thursday if Biden now regrets hitting Trump over the bounty story, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she was “not going to speak to the previous administration” but reiterated there was “enough concern” to merit having intel “truly look into it.”
Biden on Thursday declared the Russia threat a “national emergency” and imposed new sanctions. The sanctions cited Russia’s interference in the 2020 election, treatment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the SolarWinds Hack, but did not cite the bounty report.