The Interview: Natasha Bertrand on Russian Bounties and Biden’s Afghanistan Withdrawal


Natasha Bertrand, Politico White House correspondent who covers national security and foreign policy, joined me on the latest episode of The Interview.

Despite the common wisdom that the Biden administration is a quiet one, last week was hectic for Bertrand. First, the president announced that after 20 years, the U.S. would be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. That decision, as Bertrand reported, was made despite appeals from military brass to remain in the country. Then, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia in response to cyber-attacks and attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.

One piece of news from the sanctions that sparked a debate about the media: the level of confidence in the C.I.A. assessment that Russia offered bounties for the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Biden administration warned Russia on the bounties but declined to impose any sanctions on the basis of them. The “low to moderate confidence” assessment was taken as proof by some media critics that the intelligence was being walked-back, and that the press failed by reporting the original assessment on bounties too credulously. Bertrand rejected the argument that this was a reversal.

“I think it’s much more nuanced than it being a walk-back,” Bertrand said. “I don’t think that’s right actually. The intelligence was never corroborated. The intel was always low to moderate confidence.”

Bertrand explained the reasons behind the intelligence community’s level of confidence in the allegations, and pointed out that the original controversy was President Donald Trump’s denial that he was ever briefed on the intelligence. “That was just not believable,” she said.

I spoke to Bertrand on Friday morning about the sanctions, withdrawal from Afghanistan, reporting on the Biden administration during a pandemic, and how she got her start in journalism.

Listen the full episode below, and subscribe to The Interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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Aidan McLaughlin is the Editor in Chief of Mediaite. Send tips via email: Ask for Signal. Follow him on Twitter: @aidnmclaughlin