Trump Appears to Confirm Report He Gave Russians Classified Info

After partial denials from aides, president claims ‘absolute right’ to share data

President Donald Trump concludes his remarks at the 36th annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol on Monday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump concludes his remarks at the 36th annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol on Monday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Posted May 16, 2017 at 8:16am

President Donald Trump appeared to confirm a report that he discussed highly classified information with senior Russian officials last week, contradicting some of his top aides while claiming an “absolute right” to do so.

Around 7 p.m. Monday, the president dispatched National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to partially deny a Washington Post report that he revealed highly classified information about Islamic State plot involving laptop computers and passenger airliners gleaned by a U.S. ally to senior Russian officials. McMaster told reporters the article “as it came out tonight, is false.” He said no intelligence sources or methods were disclosed — something not alleged in the Post article.

But 12 hours later, a Trump tweet not only confirmed the report, but the president appeared to boast about sharing information that the country that provided it to U.S. intelligence officials had asked not be widely discussed.

Trump’s first tweet vacillated from saying he was trying to “share with Russia” then pointing out the meeting with the Russian officials was on his public schedule and ending with his declaration that he has “the absolute right to do” it. (On the latter, sitting presidents do have the legal authority to instantly declassify just about anything.)

In a follow-on tweet, the president wrote he revealed the “codeword-only” classified data out of his own concerns about “terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump not only appeared to contradict McMaster, but the three-star general’s deputy.

“This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy, who also attended the Oval Office meeting with the Russian officials, said in a statement.

Parsing the White House officials’ Monday evening statements seem to suggest they both were partial denials that left the door open to some kind of conversation about sensitive matters. Still, the White House moved quickly to pour cold water on the Post article and paint it as inaccurate. Trump did the opposite on Tuesday morning.

Most Republicans took a cautious approach Monday evening when asked about the then-fresh Post report, which quickly was confirmed by the New York Times.

But one, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told reporters if the report is true “that would be very, very troubling.”

“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do,” the Tennessee senator said, “and that’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close as to prevent that from happening.”

[Senators React With Alarm, Caution to Report That Trump Revealed Classified Info]

Many Democrats criticized Trump’s handling of classified information, a topic on which he and his campaign surrogates skewered Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton amid chants of “lock her up” by supports at rally after rally — even the 2016 Republican National Convention.

“I think a line was crossed,” House Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said Tuesday morning on MSNBC.

“The cost of this president’s ties to Russia is becoming our national security. We cannot afford that,” Swalwell said. “People have a pretty easy time understanding why the president [should] not be disclosing classified information to an adversary.”

He also questioned why — with all the Russia-based allegations swirling around the president — the Russian officials were invited to the White House. Swalwell said Trump’s tweets appear to show what some “feared all along — that Donald Trump would say something” to an adversary or even Russian officials “that’s not in line with U.S. policy.”

Swalwell also said White House and Cabinet officials for the second time in a week are “being undercut by the president’s words.”

Last Thursday, Trump told NBC News that he was thinking about the FBI’s investigation of Russian election meddling and possible nefarious ties to his campaign when he fired its director, James Comey. His top aides had spent the previous two days denying that.