Amid reports of intelligence about possible Russian bounties for Taliban fighters who kill Americans in Afghanistan, the father of a Marine who died in a roadside bomb attack there last year wants answers.
Erik Hendriks' 25-year-old son, Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, was among three Marines who were killed in the bomb attack on a convoy outside Bagram Airfield.
Hendriks said he learned about reports of the possible payments to Taliban-linked militants in a call from a reporter Monday.
If the reports are true, "that would break my heart," Hendriks said in an interview Tuesday. "It would be horrific."
Robert A. Hendriks — his father calls him Robby — was killed April 8, 2019, while conducting combat operations in Parwan province, the Defense Department has said. Also killed were Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43.
NBC News has not confirmed a link between the April 2019 bomb attack and any alleged offer of bounties by Russian intelligence officials. Two senior administration officials said Monday that the White House does not believe there is a link.
Hendricks said he has not heard from the president directly. "Why hasn't anybody called me or my ex-wife to settle us? Isn't it enough the hell we're going through that no one has come forward with anything at all?" he asked. "It's really horrible."
Since late last week, several media outlets, including NBC News, have reported that the U.S. has gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officers have offered to pay bounties to Taliban fighters who kill Americans. The news was first reported Friday by The New York Times.
The White House has denied that President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence were briefed on the matter.
National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe also denied late Saturday that Trump had been briefed. Trump tweeted Sunday that "Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible" and that therefore it had not been reported to him or Pence.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that the president has been briefed. "But that does not change the fact that there is no consensus on this intelligence that still has yet to be verified," she said.
An official familiar with the intelligence has said it shows that U.S. service members and Afghan civilians died as a result of Russian payments to the Taliban, but other officials said the intelligence has not been corroborated.
A person with direct knowledge of the intelligence told NBC News that the White House and top National Security Council officials learned about intelligence indicating that Russia was offering bounties on U.S. and coalition troops early last year.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said top officials told lawmakers in the Situation Room of the White House on Monday that "no one had been killed" as a result of Russia's bounty offer. But other U.S. officials have said it is unclear, and others have said the Russian effort may, indeed, have led to deaths.
Russia has denied the allegations, as has the Taliban. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called reports of such a program "ridiculous" and "100 percent bulls---."
Hendriks, speaking by phone from his home in Glen Cove, New York, which is on Long Island, said Tuesday that he is waiting for the facts.
"I am waiting to see if there is a smoking gun," he said. "Is someone going to step forward who knows this as a fact?"
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Hendriks said his questions are not based on politics. He said he has not voted since Ross Perot ran for president during the 1990s. He said that he leans toward Trump and likes the president's message of drawing down troops in Afghanistan but that he also worries that it could destabilize the region and put Americans at risk of attacks at home.
Hendriks at times spoke through tears. He said he wants to keep the focus on his son and his son's service to the country.
Hendriks said former Defense Secretary James Mattis sent him a handwritten letter calling his son a "Marine's Marine."
Answers would help Hendriks find peace. "Seeing if this is true is doing a justice for Robby," he said.