WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of a reported Russian effort to pay the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, saying his actions were a “dereliction of duty.”
The White House has said Trump did not receive a personal briefing on intelligence about the alleged Russian program. But the administration has yet to squarely address whether Trump had received a written briefing, whether he had read it and why he had not responded more aggressively if he had.
Biden, responding to questions from reporters, said lawmakers from both parties should “demand the facts” about the claims. The former vice president added that he was considering asking for a classified intelligence briefing on the matter.
“The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty if that is the case. … If he was briefed and nothing was done about this, that’s a dereliction of duty,” said Biden, adding that the American public should “conclude that this man isn’t fit to be president United States of America.”
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.
Biden spoke at a high school in Wilmington, Delaware, where he took questions from reporters for the first time in months after delivering a speech attacking Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“He doesn’t seem to be cognitively aware of what’s going on,” Biden said, throwing one of Trump’s criticisms of the Democrat back at him and previewing the sparring that could take place at their debates.
The Republican president trails Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election amid the pandemic’s health and economic crises, and nationwide protests against police brutality.
Biden on Tuesday released an updated plan to tackle the pandemic, calling for more COVID-19 testing and hiring at least 100,000 contract tracers.
“The American people don’t make enormous sacrifices over the past four months so … you can waste all their efforts they have undertaken with your midnight rantings and tweets,” Biden said of Trump.
He predicted that the coronavirus outbreak would likely worsen with the onset of the flu season and said preparations should include more flu vaccines.
Biden said that, if elected, he would ask the federal government’s top disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to serve another term.
He also said he expected to announce his running mate in early August.
Trump and his allies say the toll of the virus – which has killed more than 126,000 Americans, according to a Reuters tally – could have been larger without travel bans he put in place for visitors from China, and later from Europe.
They have argued that the increasing number of confirmed cases in recent weeks is largely attributable to more testing, although the rate of positive tests has also been rising.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said Biden was “fearmongering and rooting against America’s success” while Trump led a public and private-sector mobilization that had slowed the spread of the virus.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington and Simon Lewis in Washington; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)