The media and the Democratic Party "hysterically" overreacted to reports that Russian officials may have paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton stated Friday.
In an interview on "America's Newsroom" with host Sandra Smith, Cotton said he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Thursday that U.S. military commanders did not think it was as serious a problem as the newspapers and television shows were reporting.
"It got kind of out of control before we really had an understanding of what had happened. I’m not sure we fully understand now," said Powell.
"Our senior commander on the ground in the Middle East, he doesn't think these reports were corroborated and he is not aware of any deaths that are attributable to these reports," Cotton told Smith.
"That's one reason why Secretary Esper is correct that we need to get to the bottom of who selectively leaked intelligence. In this case, and in so many other cases. It ought not to be happening and it's against the law."
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testified before the House Armed Services Committee that he had launched an investigation into leaks across the Pentagon.
"We are aggressively pursuing leaks within the Defense Department," said Esper. "It's bad and it's unlawful and it needs to stop.
Cotton pointed out that the leak would be something in character for the Russian government to coordinate.
"They have been providing support to the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other ways going back as far as 2013 in the Obama era. That's one reason why President Trump has been so much tougher on Russia than Joe Biden and Barack Obama ever was," he said, noting that while the Obama administration had sent blankets to Ukraine, President Trump sent them anti-tank missiles.
"Donald Trump has repeatedly torn up obsolete treaties that were unfair to America with Russia. Joe Biden and Barack Obama signed one of the worst modern arms controls treaties in 2011," he continued. "If Joe Biden is elected, one of the very first things he’ll do in January is extend that treaty for another five years -- leaving us at risk of being outgunned by Russia and China."
"There is no question when it comes to our Russia policies, Donald Trump has been much tougher than Barack Obama and Joe Biden ever were," Cotton said.
Cotton said he hoped Esper's investigation would expose leakers and whistleblowers.
"No one in the federal government with access to classified information has a right to leak it to the media or to anyone else without authorized access. It ought never to happen and it ought to be investigated when it does happen," he concluded.