WASHINGTON — President Trump said in an interview published Wednesday that he did not bring up intelligence that Russia had covertly offered bounties to kill American troops when he spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin last week — apparently his first opportunity to directly confront Mr. Putin about the C.I.A. assessment since its existence became public late last month.
“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO.”
But Mr. Trump hinted for the first time at blaming subordinates for failing to bring the matter to his attention. “If it reached my desk, I would have done something about it,” he said. Officials have said the assessment was in his written intelligence brief in February, although he rarely reads it.
Mr. Trump’s mixed message renewed attention on the White House’s failure to authorize any response after the C.I.A. concluded that Russia had offered and paid bounties, which prompted a bipartisan uproar. His administration has downplayed the intelligence with the apparent expectation that the furor would blow over.
Despite public comments by top military officials in recent weeks suggesting that the Pentagon was hunting for more information, three senior U.S. military officials said that no single Pentagon agency or military command was conducting a dedicated investigation into the issue and that they were instead relying largely on the intelligence community.
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