White House insists Trump's disclosures 'wholly appropriate'

Cheryl Sanders
May 17, 2017

With his shoot from the hip tweets targeting USA spies and alleged Oval Office leak of secrets to the Russians, President Donald Trump has damaged White House relations with American and allied intelligence agencies and put national security at risk, current and former officials said Tuesday.

The White House hasn't denied that the President appears to have let the Russian government in on information so highly sensitive that the United States government had previously told CNN that publishing it would endanger lives and destroy intelligence-gathering methods used to keep an eye on terrorist groups.

Trump on May 10 reportedly went "off-script" to disclose to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak highly sensitive, "code-word" information provided by a USA ally concerning an aviation threat from ISIS, the Washington Post reported Monday evening. The president had been engaging in "routine sharing" with foreign leaders, he said, arguing that some of the information was publicly available.

As the White House scrambled to mitigate the fallout from the report, which drew criticism from both sides of the aisle, National security adviser H.R. McMaster said on Tuesday that Trump's behavior at last week's meeting was "wholly appropriate". Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who was Mr. Trump's chief challenger during the presidential primary race previous year. The nature of specific threats was discussed, he said, but not sources, methods or military operations.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also disputed the report.

Trump contended it was within his right as president to show "facts" about terrorism with his Russian guests. "It's as simple as, 'If I give this to you, can you keep a secret?" he says. "This story is false", deputy national security adviser Dina Powell said Monday in a written statement. But he also noted that the president talked about "common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation".


The twin developments of Comey's ouster and Trump's alleged sharing of secrets with Moscow have raised concerns to a new level within the intelligence community.

"The relationship is strong and it has worked very successfully in Canada's interests".

The new controversy left White House staffers, already under siege following last week's botched handling of FBI Director James Comey's firing, on edge. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was sacked after he misled Vice-President Mike Pence about conversations he had with Kisylak. NPR's Mara Liasson said on NPR podcast Up First that what Trump is accused of doingis "lawful but terrible". As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets.

The spy provided intelligence involving an active ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet en route to the United States, with a bomb hidden in a laptop that US officials believe can get through airport screening machines undetected.

Though officials think it's unlikely the information came from one of the so-called "Five Eyes" nations, the intelligence-sharing group made up of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, officials from those countries are likely to be concerned about the president's decision to share the information with Russian officials. At least some of the details that the United States has about the plot came from the Israelis, the officials said.

The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have declined to comment.


On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concern about the president's disclosures. Sen.

McMaster took to the lectern in the White House Briefing Room on Tuesday and told reporters that he stood by his statement.

And this week, these national security-focused Republicans say, proves they were right to oppose the inexperienced, bombastic candidate-turned-commander in chief.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that if the story is true it would be "deeply disturbing".

Reaction from Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees was full-throated.

"If this produces that problem-and that's the extreme worry here-then the president is much less effective, the USA government is much less effective, than it otherwise would be", he added. He added that he wants the House intelligence committee fully briefed on what, if anything, was shared with the Russian officials.


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