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President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information about Islamic State militants to Russian officials during a meeting last week, The Washington Post reported Monday. The White House rebutted the story, saying no intelligence sources or methods were discussed.
The newspaper cited current and former U.S. officials who said Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The threat was related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.
The anonymous officials told the Post that the information Trump relayed during the May 10 meeting had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. They said it was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.
“I was in the room, it didn’t happen,” H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters outside the White House late Monday.
“The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation,” McMaster said. “At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”
He said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy, remember the meeting the same way. “Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources” in the news report, he said.
But while White House officials denied that any intelligence sources or methods were discussed, they did not deny that Trump shared the information about the use of laptop computers on aircraft. The Post story does not claim that Trump revealed any specific information about how the intelligence was gathered.
The story will only heighten Trump’s strained relations with intelligence workers and former officials, who have expressed worry about sharing classified information with a former New York business magnate who often shoots from the hip.
It’s unlikely that Trump has broken any law.
A president has wide berth to reveal classified information, but critics already have denounced Trump for having too cozy a relationship with Russia, which intelligence and military officials view as an adversary. If true, the breach was ill-timed, coming a day after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
The Post said the intelligence partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russian officials. By doing so, Trump jeopardized cooperation from an ally familiar with the inner workings of the Islamic State group.
Afterward, White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency, the newspaper said.
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment Monday evening.
Reaction from Capitol Hill Democrats was full-throated.
The story prompted Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., to tweet: “Protip: Don’t give the Russians classified information. #Classified101.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tweeted: “If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. — who had just had a root canal — read reporters a statement he scrawled out in the dentist’s chair after learning about the story.
“These reports, if true, are of the gravest possible concern. It could harm our national security by cutting off important sources of intelligence that protect Americans against terrorist acts,” Wyden said.
Republicans were only slightly more tempered in their remarks.
“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, R-Wis. “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “We certainly don’t want any president to leak classified information, but the president does have the right to do that.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that the Trump White House “has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and order.”
He said he would have more to say when he knows more about the news report.
“The shame of it is there’s a really good national security team in place and there are good, productive things that are under way through them and through others,” Corker said. “But the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline — it’s creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment.”
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