President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting last week, The Washington Post first reported Monday.
Two former officials knowledgeable of the situation confirmed to CNN that the main points of the Post story are accurate: The President shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister.
The President did not directly reveal the source of the information, but intelligence officials told CNN that there is concern that Russia will be able to figure out the highly sensitive source.
There is some disagreement, according to one of the sources, as to how far the President went. The intelligence relates to what is known as a special access program, or SAP, which covers some of the most classified information and is protected with unique access and security protocols.
The White House scrambled to respond to the report Monday night, issuing several statements before sending H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser who participated in the meeting, out to speak with White House reporters.
“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the President did not disclose any military operations that weren’t already publicly known,” he said. “I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement earlier Monday that Trump discussed a “broad range of subjects” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism. During that exchange the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations,” Tillerson, who was in the meeting, said in a statement provided by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
Dina Powell, White House deputy national security adviser for strategy, who also attended the meeting, said: “This story is false. The President only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” in a statement provided by Spicwer.
According to the Post, Trump described details to Lavrov and Kislyak about how ISIS hopes to use laptop computers as bombs on planes.
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” one official with knowledge told the Post described Trump as saying, before the President reportedly relayed specific intelligence.
A former intelligence officer called the report — and White House response “infuriating.”
“It sounds like White House is parsing words by saying ‘didn’t discuss sources or methods’ as a weak cover your a**,” the former officer said. “That’s a technicality. If the information itself was specific enough, it implicitly discloses sources and methods.”
McMaster had previously told the Post that Trump and the Russian officials discussed “common threats.”
“The President and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” McMaster told The Washington Post. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
In April, CNN first reported that US intelligence and law enforcement agencies believed that ISIS and other terrorist organizations had developed new ways to place explosives in laptops and other electronic devices to evade airport security screening methods. US intelligence suggested that terrorists had obtained sophisticated airport security equipment that allowed them to test how to effectively conceal explosives in electronic devices, CNN reported at the time.
That intelligence led the Trump administration to ban travelers flying out of 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa from carrying electronic devices larger than cell phones aboard planes. The United Kingdom, which possessed the same intelligence, placed a similar prohibition on passengers flying from six countries, including two that were not on the US list.
Officials told CNN that the ban came about following the collection of intercepted material and “human intelligence.”
The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering expanding the electronics ban to flights from Europe to the United States.
A bipartisan group of senators appeared surprised on Monday when told about The Washington Post story, and members of the Senate intelligence committee said they were not briefed on the matter.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said it would be “very, very problematic” if true.
“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,” Corker said. “You know the shame of it is there’s a really good national security team in place.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters that the report was “troubling, if true.”
“I would say it’s disturbing but I think we’ve got to find out more before I could comment,” said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. “I just can’t comment on every news story so but obviously … it’s not a good thing.”
Sen. James Risch, an Idaho Republican, defended Trump on the story, telling reporters: “The minute the President speaks about it to someone, he has the ability to declassify anything at any time without any process.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted the Washington Post story, and added: “If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians.”
The Wednesday meeting between Trump, Lavrov and Kislyak had already raised alarm bells in Washington, primarily because it came one day after Trump decided to fire FBI Director James Comey while the bureau investigated his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
The meeting, a personal request from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump, earlier this month, was supposed to remain behind closed doors without any media coverage. But a photographer from Russian state-media Tass attended the meeting and took photos of a laughing Trump with Lavrov and Kislyak.
No US media were allowed into the meeting.
Though an angry White House official told CNN they felt “tricked” by the Russians, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “proper protocol was followed” by not allowing media into the meeting.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump slammed Hillary Clinton for storing classified information on her private email server.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team ‘were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,’ Trump tweeted in July. “Not fit!”
The irony: Trump was quoting Comey, who investigated Clinton’s email use, in his tweet.