Trump Reportedly Revealed Classified Info During Meeting With Russian Officials

Russian media were allowed at last week's meeting, but the American press was not.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as they meet for talks in the Oval Office at the White House.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as they meet for talks in the Oval Office at the White House.
Alexander Shcherbak via Getty Images

President Donald Trump disclosed “highly classified information” during a meeting with Russian officials last week, according to The Washington Post.

The revelations raise new questions about the already controversial meeting of Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, who is the Russian ambassador to the U.S. While such a disclosure is likely not illegal, it raises concerns about both the consequences of Trump’s ad hoc style when interacting with foreign leaders and U.S. coordination with other nations on sensitive foreign policy issues.

Trump revealed information to the Russian visitors that “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State,” the Post reported Monday, citing current and former U.S. officials with ties to the administration. The publication did not elaborate on what the president’s disclosure entailed, due to its sensitive nature, but said the information came from a U.S. ally.

BuzzFeed later confirmed the report, adding that the Senate Intelligence Committee was also briefed on the disclosures. “It’s far worse than what has already been reported,” one official reportedly told the outlet.

(Several Senate Intelligence Committee members told NPR’s Scott Detrow they had not been briefed on the disclosure.)

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment on whether Trump shared classified information with the Russian officials. However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that Trump did not discuss sources, methods or military operations with Lavrov.

H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, also disputed the report.

Read the full Washington Post report here.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers immediately voiced concern over the apparent intelligence disclosures.

“We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount,” a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”

“If it’s true, I would say it’s disturbing,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN Monday evening.

But McCain also told The Associated Press that Trump was within his rights to share the information.

“If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“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. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Monday.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) called the disclosure, if confirmed to be true, “almost inconceivable.”

“We’re in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ territory here,” he said in a Monday evening interview on CNN.

“Our allies, if they tell us that information, they assume we’ll never relate that,” he added of the classified intelligence Trump reportedly shared with Russian officials. “It would be almost inconceivable that any president would allow something of that nature out.”

Leahy acknowledged that the president has the authority to declassify information as he sees fit but that doing so and sharing it with the Russians would put America at risk.

“There is no way in God’s green earth you can say that makes us safer. It does not,” he said.

Trump had already received abundant criticism for the meeting in the Oval Office ― including disapproval that it happened one day after he fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating his administration’s alleged ties to Russia.

Trump was also attacked for allowing a photographer for the Russian state news agency TASS to cover the meeting, which American media had been barred from attending.

The White House said it had been misled, but the Russian photographers’ access to the Oval Office sparked questions about a possible security breach. “Deadly serious Q: Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval Office?” tweeted Colin Kahl, deputy national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden.

While the president has the power to declassify virtually any information, some considered the allegation that Trump revealed highly classified information ironic, given the president’s own war on leaks. He’s accused individuals who have revealed damaging information about him to the press of being “un-American” and of acting “just like Russia.” He’s also called on the Justice Department to investigate “criminal leaks” and accused former President Barack Obama, without any evidence, of leaking information.

And throughout the presidential campaign, Trump frequently criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, which had raised concerns over her handling of classified information. He went so far as to pledge to prosecute Clinton if he won, a promise he quickly dropped after the election.

Monday’s report is the latest in a series of revelations detailing Trump’s unpredictable style while interacting with foreign counterparts.

In a span of one week in January, the president hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after attacking a plan to resettle refugees in the U.S. as “the worst deal ever.” The day before, he had a testy diplomatic call with Enrique Peña Nieto, in which Trump reportedly told the Mexican president he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” if the Mexican military didn’t step up. Later that week, Trump also picked a fight with Iran on Twitter: “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”

Those unscripted responses, in some cases even when dealing with longtime U.S. allies, have raised questions in foreign capitals about how reliable an ally the U.S. might be under Trump.

Experts have raised concerns that a lack of confidence in U.S. leadership may jeopardize cooperation in the fight against the self-described Islamic State, also known as ISIS, at a critical time in the fight against the militant group.

Last week, the Trump administration confirmed the U.S. would start arming Kurdish YPG fighters to support their planned assault on Raqqa, ISIS’ stronghold in Syria.

The decision drew fierce condemnation from Turkey, which views the YPG militia as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which Ankara has battled since 1984.

Trump is set to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday at the White House.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.

This is a developing story and has been updated with more reactions and information on classified disclosures and foreign policy concerns.

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