May 19, 2017

Trump defends intelligence sharing with Russia amid intense criticism

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U.S. President Donald Trump has defended what he called his “absolute right” to share information with Russian officials amid controversy over classified information.

Mr. Trump’s comments, made in a series of Twitter posts on May 16, appeared to confirm U.S. media reports that he had disclosed highly classified material to Russia’s top diplomat during a meeting at the White House on May 10.

The disclosure, which may have jeopardized intelligence sourcing about the Islamic State extremist group, further roiled lawmakers and policymakers in Washington, which is still grappling with the fallout from Mr. Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey a day before the meeting with the Russians.

“As president I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. [White House] meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he wrote. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism,” he added, using an acronym for the IS group.

The Kremlin described the reports published by The Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters and other media late on May 15 as “complete nonsense.”

But congressional Democrats and some Republicans condemned the reported disclosures.

“Reports that this information was provided by a U.S. ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future,” John McCain, an influential Republican senator and vocal critic of Kremlin policies, said in a statement on May 16.

The media reports, which cited anonymous officials, said the information Mr. Trump relayed to Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during their meeting had been provided by a U.S. partner country through a highly sensitive intelligence-sharing arrangement.

The reports quoted the sources as saying that the partner had not given Washington permission to share the material with Moscow, and that Trump’s alleged decision to do so jeopardized cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of IS.

During his Oval Office meeting with Messrs. Lavrov and Kislyak, President Trump reportedly went off-script and began describing details about an IS threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft, reports said.

They said that in his conversations with the Russian officials, Mr. Trump boasted about his knowledge of the looming threats, telling them he was briefed on “great intel every day.”

After the reports of the disclosures emerged on May 15, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster denied that anything improper took place.

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he is engaged,” Mr. McMaster said at a press briefing on May 16. “The president in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation.”

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, The Washington Post and Interfax.

Copyright 2017, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; www.rferl.org. The text above is an abbreviated version of the RFE/RL story (see https://www.rferl.org/a/trump-accused-disclosing-highly-classified-secrets-islamic-state-russian-envoy-lavrov-kislyak/28489852.html).

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