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Trump adviser pushes back on reports on Russian intel sharing

Updated May 16, 2017 - 5:02 pm

The White House on Tuesday sought to extinguish a firestorm sparked by reports alleging President Donald Trump had leaked classified information to senior Russian officials, with the national security adviser saying the material shared by the president was “wholly appropriate.”

Appearing at a White House briefing on the president’s upcoming trip to the Middle East and Europe, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster pushed back against news stories alleging that Trump had provided highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a meeting last week.

McMaster stated that the information shared with the Russians, which reportedly involved intelligence indicating that the Islamic State is plotting to deploy laptop computer bombs aboard commercial airliners, was available through “open-source reporting.”

“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,” McMaster said.

In a series of tweets earlier in the day, Trump also defended having disclosed the information, saying he had an “absolute right” to do so and had shared facts to get Moscow to step up its fight against the Islamic State.

Tuesday morning news shows buzzed with the speculation that Trump, perhaps inadvertently, had revealed the source of intelligence on the purported terrorist plot. As the Washington Post first reported, intelligence officials were concerned that the information could reveal the identity of the ally who supplied it.

McMaster said Trump “wasn’t even aware of where the information came from.”

A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that Trump was informed after the meeting that he had broken protocol and White House officials placed calls to the National Security Agency and the CIA looking to minimize any damage. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say which country’s intelligence was divulged, but the Wall Street Journal and New York Times both identified Israel as the source on Tuesday, quoting unidentified U.S. officials.

In a statement, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said the partnership between the U.S and Israel was solid.

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” Dermer said.

Bipartisan dismay

Trump’s acknowledgement that he had shared information with the Russians was met with bipartisan dismay and disapproval on Capitol Hill.

“I think it would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

He added that the Senate Intelligence Committee has “already asked for additional information” on Trump’s meeting with the Russians.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee chairman, confirmed that but said he has not yet received a response from the White House. “Maybe they are busy,” he said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was concerned about what transpired at the meeting and said the information sharing with Russia sends a troubling signal to U.S. allies who have not been told about the security threat.

Democrats were more pointed in their criticism.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded a thorough investigation, including transcripts and notes. He said the recent controversies raise questions about Trump’s ability to govern.

“This is not normal behavior. This is not how a White House should operate,” Schumer said.

Nevada lawmakers weigh in

Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation also jumped into the controversy Tuesday.

“If true, this report identifies extremely alarming actions by the president,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. “Sharing highly classified information with Russia without the consent of the ally who shared it threatens the safety and security of Americans at home and abroad, and compromises the safety and trust of our allies.”

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., called on the White House to provide a full explanation and said he hoped the Senate Intelligence Committee would examine the facts surrounding the incident.

“If the reports of President Trump sharing classified information with Russian officials are true, our relationship with our allies who we rely on for intelligence is potentially threatened and our intelligence community is faced with repairing the damage,” Heller said. “Nevadans deserve answers.”

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said that if the report is true, the action by the president “has not only endangered our troops, intelligence officials, and sources who work with us on the ground gathering information.”

“Congress must receive a full, immediate briefing on what transpired between the president and Russian officials,” said Rosen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., called for a hearing by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to determine whether the disclosures have “damaged our intelligence operations abroad.”

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., a member of House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the current controversy, coupled with last week’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, adds to “the list of reasons for an independent investigation” of Russian attempts to meddle in the November election and ties to the Trump administration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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