Donald Trump has been accused of sharing “highly classified” information with the Russian foreign minister and the country’s ambassador during a White House meeting but the defiant US President asserted on Tuesday that he had “absolute right” to share facts with Moscow.
The Washington Post reported that Trump revealed highly classified information to minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the meeting last week, citing current and former US officials, who said the US President’s disclosures jeopardised a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
“The information the president relayed had been provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government,” the report said, citing officials.
Reacting to the explosive allegations, Trump tweeted, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled White House meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”
“Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against the Islamic State and terrorism,” he said. In another tweet, Trump also warned those who were “leaking” information.
“I have been asking Director Comey and others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the leakers in the intelligence community,” Trump said.
Comey was fired as Federal Bureau of Investigation director last week.
From the very beginning of his presidency, the Trump administration has been hit by a series of leaks. Trump and his team alleges that this is being done at the behest of those who are still loyal to the previous Obama administration.
Following his tweets, the Post said Trump acknowledges that “facts” were shared with Russian envoys.
“Trump’s tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, ‘code-word’ information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting last week, a disclosure that intelligence officials warned could jeopardise a crucial intelligence source on the Islamic State,” the daily said.
The allegations were earlier refuted by both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H R McMaster, who said that there was no discussion of specific threats with the Russians.
The report, quoting an unnamed US official, said, “This (the information shared) is code-word information.”
Code-word information is a terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies, the daily reported.
Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies,” the newspaper said, adding that following this, US officials have gone into damage control mode.
According to the daily, the sensitive classified information was given to the US by one of its allies, which had not given it permission to share it with the Russians.
The Trump administration vehemently denied the allegations.
“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism. During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations,” Tillerson said.
“The President and the (Russian) foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organisations to include threats to aviation,” said McMaster, the National Security Adviser, who participated in the meeting.
“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly,” McMaster said.
“This story is false. The President only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” said Dina Powell, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy, who also attended the meeting.
Talking to reporters, McMaster described the story as false.
“Two other senior officials who were present, including the Secretary of State, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” McMaster said.
The opposition Democratic party and several lawmakers from his own party expressed concern over the alleged sharing of sensitive information with the Russians. The Democratic party and its leadership called for appointment of a special prosecutor to probe for links between Trump, his team and the Russians.
In a statement, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said if news reports are true, Trump has “compromised a key source of intelligence collection” against IS and jeopardised the security of the American people.
“Even if President Trump unwittingly blew a highly classified code-word source to the Russians, that would be dangerous enough.
“If the President outed a highly classified code-word source intentionally, that would be even more dangerous,” Pelosi said.
She demanded that Congress must be given a full briefing on the extent of the damage President Trump has done in compromising highly classified code-word intelligence to the Russians.