Report: Trump shared secret info about IS with Russians
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.
Democrats with ties to York County decried Trump's "carelessness" and called for a special prosecutor to look into Trump's alleged ties to Russian officials, while some Republicans urged the public to wait until the full story comes out and trust the president's judgment.
The anonymous officials told the Post that the information Trump relayed during Wednesday's 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.
‘Carelessness’: After the Washington Post’s report was published, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania tweeted out a link to the story and said Trump’s “carelessness” endangers the country’s relationships with its intelligence partners.
In a statement to The York Dispatch, Casey reiterated that point.
“The president’s carelessness with classified information is endangering crucial intelligence-sharing agreements and puts our national security at risk,” Casey wrote in a short email statement.
Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, said the latest story regarding the president’s ties with Russia did not catch him by surprise.
“I wish I could say that I was shocked, but … it’s just the next story — the next story in the Russia-Trump connections (narrative),” Baker said.
If the report is true, Baker said it has the potential to create a very dangerous situation, with U.S. allies thinking the country has turned its back on them to work with Russia.
“While he may not have broken any laws, he definitely has put our national and international relationships on the line by turning our back on allies,” Baker said.
Echoing the demands of many Capitol Hill Democrats, Baker called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to lead an independent investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russian officials on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office.
Baker said Trump’s actions were hypocritical after he railed against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, citing the possibility of classified information being stolen off the server.
“It’s ironic for someone who, as a candidate, was constantly bashing Secretary Clinton about the possibility that she could have shared classified information through her emails,” Baker said. “Now he is just blatantly laying it out there.”
The reaction from Democrats in Washington 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.
'No evidence': Alex Shorb, chairman of the York County Republican Party, said he was uncomfortable commenting on the Washington Post’s report without having all of the information about what happened.
Shorb said he will wait until there is concrete evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump or his officials, though he said he would be surprised if any evidence is uncovered during investigations.
“Right now, I think a large part of the Russia collusion story is being manufactured by the media,” Shorb said. “I think they’re on a witch hunt, and I would take it all in stride at this point until substantial evidence comes out to support any claim.”
Sometimes a president or chief executive officer must be the person to determine what information to share and what to keep private, Shorb said.
“If he’s not breaking any laws, I think you have to give any leader you empower — I think you have to have to give them a certain amount of leeway and trust their judgment,” Shorb said.
Capitol Hill Republicans were only slightly more tempered in their remarks than were their Democratic colleagues.
"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."
A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, said the congressman was unavailable to provide comment on the Washington Post’s report due to prior obligations.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., could not be reached for comment Monday night.
Strain: 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.
— Staff writer Jason Addy contributed to this report. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JasonAddyYD.