Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information To Russians During White House Visit
The president disclosed classified intelligence with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister last week, two US officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
President Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials during a meeting last week at the White House, two US officials confirmed Monday to BuzzFeed News.
The meeting included Russia's Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The disclosures were first reported by the Washington Post, which cited current and former US officials who said the information was considered so sensitive that some details had been withheld from American allies and was restricted within the US government.
Two US officials who were briefed on Trump’s disclosures last week confirmed to BuzzFeed News the veracity of the Washington Post report, with one noting that “it’s far worse than what has already been reported.” The official was referring to the extent of the classified intelligence information Trump disclosed to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister.
The information Trump shared included intelligence on an ISIS plot that had been passed to the US by a partner, which was not identified. But Trump's disclosure was considered a potential blow to the intelligence-sharing arrangement, and White House officials reportedly moved quickly to contain the fallout.
At least one member of the Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed on Trump’s disclosures, an intelligence committee staffer said. Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the committee, was not briefed, according to his office. Other members of the committee also said they did not receive a briefing.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment when reached by BuzzFeed News. The official referred requests for comment to the National Security Council, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Following last week's meeting, the White House said on May 10 that Trump spoke to the Russians about ending the conflict in Syria and reining in the Assad regime, as well as controlling Iran. Ukraine and the Middle East also came up at the meeting, the White House said.
As news of the revelations spread Monday, top administration officials huddled in the White House, where reporters could hear yelling emanating from the presidential residence.
A spokesperson later emerged and said the White House would not release any more information Monday, and staffers cranked up the volume on TVs near the room where they had gathered.
After news of Trump's revelations broke Monday, Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, said the White House is in a "downward spiral."
"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," Corker told reporters in Washington. "And the shame of it is, there's a really good national security team in place...but the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment."
A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said that "we have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount."
"The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration," said Doug Andres, Ryan's spokesman.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a statement Monday evening, said that Trump and Russian officials discussed "a broad range of subjects at their meeting," including "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 continued.
H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, who participated in the meeting, said that "the president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation."
“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly," he added.
McMaster reiterated that point during a brief news conference outside the White House Monday night, saying that at no time during the meeting "were intelligence sources or methods discussed."
"I was in the room, it didn't happen," McMaster said.
The Washington Post, however, did not report Trump shared intelligence sources or methods with Russian officials, but rather the contents of the information gathered.
"This story is false," Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser, said. "The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” she said.
The meeting between Trump, Lavrov, and Kislyak happened the day after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading an investigation into Russian interference with the US election, as well as potential ties between Trump's campaign and Russia.
Initially, the stated reason for Comey's firing was his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server. However, in an interview with Lester Holt, Trump later said he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he fired Comey.
"I don't know when it will be enough for Republicans to understand that we need to get to the bottom of the connection between the president of the United States and the Russian government," said Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday afternoon that if the reports about Trump revealing information were true, "it'd be troubling." Warner called the revelations "a slap in the face to the intel community."
Though Trump's alleged revelations to the Russians prompted widespread condemnation, the disclosures were probably not illegal.
"This story is more about the president's competence than his compliance with the law," Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told BuzzFeed News.
"There is probably no legal issue here, since the president controls the classification system and has essentially unlimited authority to declassify or disclose classified information. The reported fact that Trump disclosed intelligence information to the Russians does not necessarily mean that it was declassified."
BuzzFeed News reporter Emma Loop contributed to this report from Washington.
A staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the committee had been briefed on Trump's disclosure. Several members of the committee have since said they were not briefed, and this story has been updated with additional information.