US President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to senior Russian officials during a meeting at the White House last week, according to a report quoting current and former US officials.
Trump’s disclosures to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, last Wednesday are believed to have jeopardized an important source of intelligence on the Islamic State terror group, the officials told the Washington Post on Monday.
Trump’s closed-door meeting with the Russian officials came a day after his abrupt firing of FBI chief James Comey, whose agency is investigating whether the president’s campaign team colluded with a suspected Russian attempt to sway last year’s election in his favor.
The information Trump disclosed, according to the report, was provided by an unnamed US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement so secret, its details are unknown to some within the government. The officials said Trump’s revelations endangered the cooperation with the US ally who is reported to have access to the workings of the Islamic State.
“If that partner learned we’d given this to Russia without their knowledge or asking first, that is a blow to that relationship,” a US official told the Washington Post.
Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies,” another official said.
The New York Times, which later picked up the story, said the ally had previously shared information with the US, only to see it leaked, and had warned US officials that it may cut off access to such information if it is shared too widely.
The US has intelligence agreements with several nations across the world and is part of the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance with Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
In January, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in Israel reported that US intelligence officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that Trump’s ties to Russia could pose a security threat, and described a meeting between US and Israeli intelligence officials in which the Americans indicated to Israel they should be cautious in sharing information with Trump’s White House. The paper reported that the Americans assessed that Russia had some kind of leverage over Trump, but did not go into details.
In his meeting with Lavrov on May 10, Trump reportedly told the Russian foreign minister: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” according to an official with knowledge of the exchange, before going into the details obtained through the capabilities of the key US ally.
While the president did not reveal to the Russians how the information was gathered, he did disclose specific elements of an unfolding plot and its threats and — most alarmingly to US officials — the city in IS territory where the information was picked up by the intelligence partner.
The Post reported that “Trump went off script and began describing details about an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.”
The paper said it was withholding further information, including the name of the city, at the behest of US officials who said revealing them could endanger further intel cooperation. The location, according to the report, could help Russia identify said US ally and its espionage capabilities which may extend to gathering intel on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would possibly be interested in disrupting such intel gathering.
“Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive, and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling,” said one US counterterrorism official who works closely with the Trump administration.
Trump’s disclosures caused senior White House officials to scramble to contain the damage, placing calls to both the CIA and the National Security Agency, according to the report.
H.R. McMaster told reporters in a brief statement that the report “is false” and “at no time” were intelligence sources or methods discussed during Trump’s meeting with Lavrov.
McMaster says: “I was in the room. it didn’t happen.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also responded, saying Trump discussed “the nature of specific threats” during the meeting, “but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment Monday evening.
It’s unlikely that Trump has broken any law. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets.
Lawmakers from both parties were quick to weigh in.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Monday evening 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.”
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.”