U.S. Rep. Tom Reed declined Tuesday to criticize President Trump over reports that he ignored intelligence information that Russia paid bounties to Taliban troops to kill American and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.

“We have not been formally briefed,” Reed told reporters during his weekly press call.

“Any time a country like Russia targets American soldiers with a bounty we are going to have a serious conversation and an investigation,” Reed, R-Corning said. But, he added, “We don’t want to rush to judgement.”

On Monday, Democrats and Republicans in Congress demanded that U.S. intelligence agencies tell Congress about the alleged plot by a Russian agency to pay the Taliban a bounty for killing Americans.

“That’s why we have to get the briefings,” Reed told reporters. Republican lawmakers went to the White House Monday for an intelligence briefing, followed on Tuesday by Democrats who were briefed by White House officials.

News reports indicated the daily presidential briefing contained detailed intelligence on the alleged Russian bounties. Trump denied knowing about the Russian plot on Monday.

He gets the briefings daily, but will often settle for a verbal report a couple of times a week. There were also reports that those preparing the daily briefing would omit items that would upset the president.

“My top priority is always the safety of our men and women in uniform,” Reed said. If true, Russia needs to be held accountable, he added.

Trump denied on Sunday that he had been briefed on the reports that the Russians had put a bounty on American troops in Afghanistan. The president has yet to authorize a response to the Russians.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, slammed Trump Tuesday on the bounty reports.

Reed opened Tuesday’s press call with good news that the USMCA Trade Agreement would go into effect Wednesday.

“We fought really hard to update the agreement,” Reed said. Western New York dairy farmers and vineyards are poised to reap the benefits of a more open Canadian milk market, he said. This should produce more demand for American dairy products.

“It’s a very good gain when it comes to access (of the Canadian dairy market)," Reed said. "We still have to hold Canada accountable.”

Canada has embraced a supply management approach to its milk products, which has effectively closed its markets to most American dairy, Reed pointed out.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the minority leader in the U.S. Senate, expressed concern earler this week that Canada would not live up to the USMCA in regard to allowing U.S. dairy producers more access to sell their products north of the border.

Besides Western New York dairy farmers, grape producers in Chautauqua County and in the Finger Lakes also stand to earn more from the Canadian market under the agreement.

Digital trade is another win for the U.S., Reed said. “It means jobs here in America.”

What about the growing number of coronavirus cases across the South and West?

“I was hoping to avoid that,” Reed replied. This is why it is important to have pre-planning in place regarding reopening and to have personal protection equipment available.

“We want to contain outbreaks, not have another mass shutdown of the U.S. economy,” Reed said.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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