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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

With US and its allies in a flap, Trump defends leak to Russians

The US President claimed he was legitimately sharing information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, but by defending himself, he contradicted the version of events by his surrogates fielded by the White House the previous day.

world Updated: May 16, 2017 23:21 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the White House.
Donald Trump with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the White House.(AFP File)

A long-time critic of leaks and advocate of prosecuting those responsible, US President Donald Trump has been found to have himself disclosed highly classified information to the Russia foreign minister and ambassador at the White House. Except, he didn’t call it a leak.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

According to him, it was legitimate information sharing which he is legally empowered to do as the country’s classifier-in-chief, agreed experts. But as has become the pattern, Trump contradicted his surrogates fielded by the White House the previous day — national security adviser HR McMaster, for instance, called the report on the leak “false”.

The Washington Post, which first reported the alleged breach by the president, said it was not disclosing details at the request of US officials who feared public disclosure could jeopardize the operation that yielded the operation which was being run by an ally who had not authorized its sharing.

And that has worried allies and other partners who share intelligence with the United States. An European official told the Associated Press their country might cease sharing intelligence with the US because of Trump’s disclosure to the Russians.

At his meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Trump had said, according to the Post, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” And then he discussed it in some details.

Though he did not get into specifics nor did 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”. And the report said, citing an official, “Most alarmingly, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the US intelligence partner detected the threat.”

As other media outlets picked up the story, the White House tried to push back calling the CIA and the NSA, and rolling out McMaster and secretary of state Rex Tillerson to defend Trump.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” McMaster 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,” he added, calling the Post story “false”.

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 into Moscow meddling with 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 and already cost them their job and role in the Russia investigation respectively.

And now this bombshell revelation.

First Published: May 16, 2017 20:48 IST

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