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Father of Marine killed in 2019 bomb attack wants answers amid reports of Russia bounties

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 killed in the bomb attack on a convoy outside Bagram Airfield.

Hendriks said that he learned about reports of the possible payments to Taliban-linked militants in a call from a reporter Monday.

If true, “that would break my heart,” Hendriks told NBC News on Tuesday. “It would be horrific,” he said.

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.

Hendricks said he hasn’t 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 said. “It’s really horrible.”

Since late last week, several media outlets, including by 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.

It was first reported by The New York Times on Friday.

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Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25 of Locust Valley, New York.Courtesy Hendriks Family

Since then, the White House has denied that President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence was briefed on the matter.

National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe 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 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.

NBC News has not confirmed a link between the April 2019 bomb attack and any alleged offer of bounties by Russian intelligence officials.

An official familiar with the intelligence has told NBC News that 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 hasn’t 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 Russia was offering bounties on U.S. and coalition troops in early 2019.

Two senior administration officials on Monday said that the White House does not believe there is a link between the deaths of the three Marines in April 2019 and Russia’s offer to pay bounties.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that top officials told lawmakers in the Situation Room on Monday that “no one had been killed” as a result of Russia’s bounty offer. But other U.S. officials have said that it’s unclear, and others have said that the Russian effort may indeed have led to deaths.

Russia has denied the allegations. The Taliban also denies that there was a bounty program. 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, N.Y., 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?”

Hendriks said his questions aren’t based on politics. He said he does not vote and has not since Ross Perot ran for president. Hendriks says he leans toward Trump and likes the president’s message of drawing down troops in Afghanistan but also worries it could destabilize the region and put Americans at risk of attacks at home.

Hendriks at times spoke through tears. He said that he wants to keep the focus on his son and his son’s service to the country.

Hendriks said that former Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis sent him a hand-written letter that called 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.

MSNBC Anchors - Season 15Kristen Welker

Kristen Welker is a White House correspondent for NBC News.

Image: Phil helselPhil Helsel

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

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