President Donald Trump defended revealing information to Russian officials, in a pair of tweets on Tuesday, stating that he shared “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” and had “the absolute right” to do so.
Trump tweets were in response to reports Monday that he revealed ‘highly classified’ information to senior Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week, putting a source of intelligence on the Islamic State at risk.
“As President, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he said in a series of tweets on Tuesday. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
Trump’s early morning tweets contradict his top foreign policy advisers race to mitigate and contain the political damage from a Washington Post report on Monday, alleging that Trump revealed highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak. The information cited in the Washington Post report was from a U.S. intelligence partner about an Islamic State plot. During the firestorm of reports stemming from the sharing of information with Russia, Trump faced a fury of questions about the handling of FBI Director James Comey’s firing amid an investigation of possible collusion by Trump associates in Russian interference with the U.S. election.
President Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House on Wednesday. Russian Foreign Ministry photo via Associated Press
White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in a seemingly rushed appearance on the White House lawn on Monday, in addressing the allegations in the Washington Post, stated: “At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” “I was in the room, it didn’t happen,” According to McMaster’s statement to the press, which was less than a minute. He ended the brief appearance without taking questions.
The Washington Post reports, the intelligence shared by Trump involved information about an Islamic State plot to use laptop computers as possible weapons aboard commercial aircraft. The information was provided by a U.S. ally with access to the inner workings of the terrorist group. Trump’s admission in his Tuesday morning tweets, stating that he shared information with the Russians raised questions about the right of the president to release sensitive intelligence, even classified information.
Washington Post cited unnamed current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the exchange, stating they recognized the sharing of the sensitive information jeopardized intelligence capabilities. Washington Post also reported that homeland security and counterterrorism adviser Thomas Bossert called the directors of the CIA and the National Security Agency afterward. One of his subordinates called for that portion of the discussion stricken from internal memos and circulation of a transcript limited to prevent sensitive details from being further distributed, reported in the article.
The U.S. held the intelligence at one of the highest classification levels that would typically prevent it from being shared even with allies, according to the Washington Post report. While Trump didn’t reveal the specific methods that developed the information or sources, he described elements of a particular plot and the city in Islamic State’s territory where the threat was detected, also reported by Washington Post.
A primary concern was that specific information could be enough to let the Russians identify the source and method, according to one intelligence official cited by the Post.
Top lawmakers of both parties, while saying they weren’t able to comment on the substance of the report, said it raised new questions about the administration.
“We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount,” said Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan. “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters at the Capitol. “Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now, and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”
Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel, said sharing information without the permission of a foreign intelligence partner “violates a cardinal rule” of dealing with friendly agencies.
“If it’s accurate, it’s disturbing because it’s divulging information about operations in Syria which could be exploited not only by the Russians to interrupt intelligence operations that they feel are threatening to them,” Reed said.
The intelligence involved may be linked to the U.S. announcement on March 21 that electronic devices larger than smartphones would be banned from cabins on flights originating from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa. The Department of Homeland Security has been considering expanding the restriction to flights from Europe.
The president has broad authority to declassify, information so it’s not likely he broke the law, according to the Post, even though he shared it with a U.S. adversary.
Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak one day after firing Comey, who was leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian agents trying to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.
Trump has denied any connection to Russia while also questioning the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that the government in Moscow directed a campaign of hacking and disinformation to disrupt the election.