Trump defends sharing intelligence with Russian officials

Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak (right) at the White House last week. (Photo: Handout via the Russian Foreign Ministry)
Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House last week. (Photo: Handout via the Russian Foreign Ministry)

President Trump reacted Tuesday to the Washington Post’s bombshell report that he revealed highly classified information during his meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office last week.

“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,” the president tweeted. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump did not deny divulging what the Post described as “code-word information,” one of the highest classification levels used in U.S. intelligence agencies, to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.

In a carefully worded statement delivered outside the White House Monday evening, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security director, said that the Post’s “story that came out tonight as reported is false.”

“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed,” McMaster said. “The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”

But the Post report did not say that sources or methods were discussed.

“The White House is playing word games here,” Greg Miller, the Washington Post national security correspondent who co-authored the report with Greg Jaffe, said on CNN. “If this was above board and not problematic in any way, why did the National Security Council, coming out of this meeting, feel it was necessary to contact the CIA director and the director of the National Security Agency and give them a heads-up on what Trump had just told the Russians?”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry denied reports that Trump revealed classified information to senior Russian officials.

The revelation of Trump’s apparent casual sharing of sensitive information is sending shockwaves throughout Washington.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the Trump administration is “in a downward spiral right now” and must “figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”

“The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment,” Corker said.

“Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “The president owes the intelligence community, the American people, and Congress a full explanation.”

A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he “hopes for a full explanation” from the Trump administration.

“We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement. “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called it a “slap in the face” to the intelligence community.

“If literally anyone else did what President Trump is reported to have done, there would be an immediate criminal investigation,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said in a statement of his own.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., offered a different explanation for Trump’s behavior.

“I believe that the president is desperate for attention and needs psychological help,” Wilson told CBS Miami.

Trump later attempted to place blame on fired FBI Director James Comey and “others” for not focusing enough on the “leakers” of intelligence.

“I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community,” the president tweeted.

According to CBS News’ Mark Knoller, a White House spokesman “emphatically” denied Trump’s tweets amounted to a tacit confirmation of the Post’s report.

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