The White House has been engulfed by fresh chaos over allegations Donald Trump revealed classified information to Russian officials, sparking bizarre scenes as aides reportedly turned up televisions to drown out shouting between top aides.
Dozens of reporters crowded into the hallway outside Sean Spicer’s office after the Washington Post published its report on Mr Trump’s discussions with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Press officers walked through the pack in silence as journalists asked for more information, while televisions in the press area picked up on the story, just days after the furore over the sacking of FBI director James Comey.
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“This is the last place in the world I wanted to be,” said national security adviser HR McMaster, as he stumbled into the crowd of waiting journalists in the West Wing. “I'm leaving. I'm leaving.”
He was dispatched to deliver a 45-second statement to waiting television cameras, without answering questions.
Mr McMaster dismissed claims Mr Trump had relayed sensitive information to the Russians from a foreign intelligence agency - a move that allegedly put cooperation with a partner “that has access to the inner workings of Isis” at risk.
“I was in the room, it didn't happen,” he said.
National Security Adviser HR McMaster makes a statement outside the West Wing of the White House. (AP)
“The President and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, White House communications director Michael Dubke, Mr Spicer and deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders held an emergency meeting.
Buzzfeed’s White House correspondent Adrian Carrasquillo said journalists in the hallway could soon “hear yelling coming from the room where officials are”.
Minutes later, televisions were turned up “super loud” in an apparent attempt to drown out the shouting and prevent reporters overhearing the heated discussions.
At around 7.30pm local time (12.30am BST), Ms Sanders emerged to announce that White House officials would not be answering any more questions for the evening.
“We've said all we're going to say,” she said, asking reporters to clear the hallway.
A series of short statements were released denying the story, including one from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, which said Mr Trump discussed counter-terror operations with Mr Lavrov but “they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations”.
“This story is false,” said Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser. “The President only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”
None of the statements specifically denied that Mr Trump had revealed classified information, sparking allegations that aides were “playing word games”.
Officials refused to answer specific questions, including what precisely the Washington Post report had got wrong, ensuring it would dominate a week that White House officials hoped would be quiet in advance of the President's first foreign trip.
The newspaper cited current and former US officials said Mr Trump had divulged information provided by an ally through an intelligence-sharing arrangement, which was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the American government.
It did not claim that the President revealed any specific information about how the intelligence was gathered, as Mr McMaster's denial suggested.
The Russian foreign ministry has also dismissed the allegations as “fake news”.
US media outlets were barred from Wednesday's meeting between Mr Trump, Mr Lavrov and Mr Kislyak, although a Russian state media photographer was allowed inside after the White House was apparently misled over his role, sparking security fears.
The allegations are particularly damaging given Mr Trump’s repeated attacks on Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server to handle classified information.
The scandal, which was the subject of an FBI investigation widely credited with swinging the election in Mr Trump’s favour, saw him label his rival “crooked Hillary” and lead chants of “lock her up” at rallies.
Mr Comey, who led that investigation, was abruptly fired from his post last week.
White House statements said he was dismissed over the Clinton email investigation, although the FBI director was also leading a probe into alleged links between the Trump administration and Russia.
Additional reporting by AP