Trump defends right to share 'facts' with Russia

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to share highly classified information about Islamic State with two top Russian diplomats, a day after his national security advisor refuted claims he had done so.
President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister during their meeting last week, two US officials with knowledge of the situation said. The White House denied the report.VIDEO: REUTERS
The Washington Post reported on Monday that US President Donald Trump (centre) revealed highly classified information about an ISIS terror threat linked to the use of laptops on airplanes during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (
The Washington Post reported on Monday that US President Donald Trump (centre) revealed highly classified information about an ISIS terror threat linked to the use of laptops on airplanes during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Russia's ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak at the White House last Wednesday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

He reportedly disclosed sensitive intelligence in meeting last week

WASHINGTON • Embattled US President Donald Trump said he had a right to share information with Russia relating to terrorism and airline safety after he faced explosive allegations that he divulged top secret intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that he revealed highly classified information on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group at a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

In a shock twist, the intelligence reportedly came from a US ally which did not authorise Washington to share it with Moscow, and this could shatter trust that is essential to intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation.

Mr Trump defended himself yesterday in a series of posts on Twitter: "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled White House meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining... to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."

Later yesterday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at a press conference the "premise of the article was false".

Noting that Mr Trump was meeting Mr Lavrov about the terrorist threat, he said: "In the context of that discussion, what the President discussed with the Foreign Minister was wholly appropriate with that conversation and consistent with the routine sharing of information."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the issue is not worth confirming or denying, calling it "more nonsense".

  • Disclosures shock and worry US lawmakers

  • WASHINGTON • Lawmakers expressed shock and concern after learning that US President Donald Trump had revealed highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and ambassador during a meeting last week, according to current and former US officials.

    "Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening," Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the Trump administration. "The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes - it creates a worrisome environment."

    The disclosures jeopardised a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said the officials. The information was provided by a partner via an intelligence-sharing arrangement deemed so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government.

    The news created a sensation as it spread through Washington and up to Capitol Hill on Monday. "If the report is true, it is very disturbing," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of the Democrats.

    "Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country. "

    The revelation came at a sensitive time for Mr Trump, who last week cited "this Russia thing with Trump" in explaining why he fired FBI director James Comey, who was leading a probe into Russia's interference with the 2016 election.

    Investigators are already probing possible coordination between Mr Trump's campaign and the Russian government, and the President has struggled to shake the issue.

    The news is likely to raise questions about Mr Trump's handling of classified information. It could also increase pressure on investigators looking into his possible ties to the Kremlin. And it could pull attention from Republicans' policy priorities.

    The Senate Republicans are trying to hammer out the details of a healthcare plan.

    WASHINGTON POST

The Post, citing unnamed officials, said Mr Trump went off script at the meeting, describing details about an ISIS terror threat linked to the use of laptops on airplanes, revealing the city where the information was gathered. The Trump administration recently barred the use of laptops in the passenger cabin from several countries in the Middle East and is mulling over the expansion of that ban.

The revelations are the latest crises to hit the White House, with aides trying to put out the fire and find the source of the leaks on Monday. Since coming to office in January, Mr Trump has lurched from crisis to crisis, lampooning the intelligence services, law enforcement and the media along the way.

Last week, he threw his administration into turmoil by taking the virtually unprecedented step of firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who had been overseeing a probe into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia to skew the presidential election.

The meeting with the Russians came a day after the firing, and was controversial in itself - a red carpet welcome for Russian President Vladimir Putin's top aides months after Russia was hit with US sanctions for meddling in the election.

Mr Trump's administration was left red-faced after Moscow released pictures of what was meant to be a closed-door meeting.

For Mr Trump's weary allies in Congress, the crisis brought more headaches from an administration struggling to make its legislative mark.

"We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount," said Mr Doug Andres, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, adding that the latter hopes "for a full explanation" .

Senior Republican Senator John McCain told CNN that "if it's true, it's obviously disturbing".

But he added: "Let's wait and see what this was all about first."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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White House denies Trump disclosed intelligence. str.sg/46at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Trump defends right to share 'facts' with Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe