Published May 24, 2017
White House officials aggressively pushed back Monday against a Washington Post report that President Trump revealed classified information about ISIS to Russia's foreign minister and Moscow's ambassador to the United States during a White House meeting last week.
In a brief statement in front of the White House, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster described the Post's story as "false."
The newspaper cited current and former U.S. officials who said Trump jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on ISIS in his conversations with the Russian officials, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
"The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation," McMaster said. "At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known."
McMaster's statement echoed earlier denials issued by two other administration officials who attended the meeting, though none of them denied that classified information was disclosed.
"This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced," said Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy.
In addition, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump and Lavrov "did not discuss sources, methods or military operations."
McMaster said the statements by Powell and Tillerson "should outweigh [the accounts] of anonymous sources [in the Post report].
"I was in the room," McMaster concluded. "It didn't happen."
The officials told the Post that Trump offered details about an ISIS terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft. The newspaper says the information was very sensitive and had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. They said it was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.
The Post claimed the intelligence partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russian officials. By doing so, the paper said, Trump jeopardized cooperation from an ally familiar with the inner workings of ISIS.
Afterward, White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency, the newspaper reported.
If the Post report is true, it's unlikely that Trump has broken any law. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Monday evening that the Trump White House "has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and order."
He said he would have more to say when he knows more about the news report.
"The shame of it is there's a really good national security team in place and there are good, productive things that are under way through them and through others," Corker said. "But the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline -- it's creating an environment that I think makes -- it creates a worrisome environment."
"We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount," said Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, "We certainly don't want any president to leak classified information, but the president does have the right to do that."
Democrats quickly jumped on the report, with the Democratic National Committee issuing a statement saying, "Russia no longer has to spy on us to get information – they just ask President Trump and he spills the beans with highly classified information that jeopardizes our national security and hurts our relationships with allies.
"If Trump weren’t president, his dangerous disclosure to Russia could end with him in handcuffs," the DNC statement continued.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that if the Post report was true, "it is very disturbing ... The President owes the intelligence community, the American people, and Congress a full explanation."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, called the story "deeply disturbing" and said if it's true, the disclosure could jeopardize sources of very sensitive intelligence and relationships with key allies.
"That the Russians would be the potential recipients of this intelligence and may be able to determine its source is all the more problematic, since the Russian interest in Syria and elsewhere is, in many respects, deeply antithetical to our own," Schiff said. He added that he wants the House intelligence committee fully briefed on what, if anything, was shared with the Russian officials.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, tweeted that if the Post's report was true, Trump's disclosure represented a "slap in the face to the intel community."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. -- who had just had a root canal -- read reporters a statement he scrawled out in the dentist's chair after learning about the story.
"These reports, if true, are of the gravest possible concern. It could harm our national security by cutting off important sources of intelligence that protect Americans against terrorist acts," Wyden said.
Fox News' John Roberts and the Associated Press contributed to this report.