The Washington Post reported Monday that President Trump revealed highly classified information to Russia’s ambassador to the United States and foreign minister during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday. From the Post:
The information Trump relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said that Trump’s decision to do so risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and National Security Agency.
The Post’s Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe write that a U.S. official told them that Trump had given “more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” The information that Trump divulged evidently included intelligence about the potential use of laptops by ISIS terrorists. “Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States only learned through the espionage capabilities of a key partner,” Miller and Jaffe write. “He did not reveal the specific intelligence gathering method, but described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.”
According to U.S. officials, Russia has an interest in locating, identifying, and “disrupting” the source of the intelligence Trump discussed—a source that could also be delivering intelligence about Russian activities in Syria. “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out,” a former intelligence official told the Post.
After the meeting, senior officials reportedly scrambled to contain the spread of sensitive information:
Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.
One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.
Miller and Jaffe also write that Trump boasted to the Russians about the quality of the divulged intelligence. “I get great intel,” he said according to an official. “I have people brief me on great intel every day.”
Update May 15, 6:15 PM: Buzzfeed’s Jim Dalrymple and Jason Leopold report that two U.S. officials have confirmed to them that President Trump revealed highly classified information during Wednesday’s meeting. “Two US officials who were briefed on Trump’s disclosures last week confirmed to BuzzFeed News the veracity of the Post report,” they write, “with one official noting that ‘it’s far worse than what has already been reported.’’’
Update May 15, 6:50 PM: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell have responded to the Post’s report with statements that mesh with a statement from national security adviser H.R. McMaster that was quoted in the article. All three say that Trump and the Russians discussed “common’’ threats with both Tillerson and McMaster saying that actual sources, methods, and military operations were not divulged. That actually comports with the Post’s reporting, which suggests that Trump revealed information that could aid in the discovery of an intelligence source, not the source itself. Powell is the only one of the three who has denied the story outright. “This story is false,’’ she says. “The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.’’
Update May 15, 7:20 PM: H.R. McMaster just gave another brief statement to reporters outside the White House. This time, he explicitly denied the Post’s reporting. “The story that came out tonight as reported is false,’’ he said. “At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed.’’ Again, the Post did not report that Trump divulged specific sources or methods. Both McMaster and deputy national security adviser Powell were in the meeting with Trump.