After complaining bitterly about leaks and calling for prosecuting those responsible, President Donald Trump has been found to have himself disclosed highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.
The Washington Post, which first reported this alleged breach by the president when the three met at the White House last week, said it was not revealing details at the request of US officials who feared such public disclosure could jeopardise the intelligence gathering operation which was being run by a US ally who had not authorised its sharing.
In his meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the president said, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” reported the Post, citing an official with knowledge of the conversation.
And then he discussed it in some detail, according to the report.
Though Trump did not get into specifics, nor did he describe intelligence collections measures, the president went on to describe, the Post said, “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, the report said, citing an official, “Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the US intelligence partner detected the threat.”
The White House went into damage control mode as soon as it realised the misstep, calling the CIA and the NSA, and rolled out National Security Adviser HR McMaster to deal with the blowback that had taken epic proportions on domestic media within just a few hours.
“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organisations to include threats to aviation,” McMaster, who was present at the meeting, said in a statement.
“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
The NSA reiterated much of this in a brief appearance before the press, at which he called the Post story “false”, and, as newspaper pointed out in an obvious defence of its expose, he did not take questions.
The optics were troubling enough of the US president meeting the Russians just the day after he had fired FBI director James Comey who was overseeing an investigation on the reported meddling by Moscow in US elections with alleged collusion of Trump campaign aides.
Ambassador Kislyak’s interactions — meetings and phone conversations — with Trump’s first NSA Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions already cost them their job and role in the Russia investigation respectively.
The White House also released a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the meeting focused on counterterrorism, and from deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, who said the Washington Post story was false.
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat Dick Durbin, called Trump’s conduct “dangerous” and “reckless.” The Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, called the allegations “very, very troubling” if true.