Trump’s intelligence sharing causes new headaches for allies
For months, US allies have anxiously wondered if President Donald Trump could be trusted with some of the world’s most sensitive national security secrets. Now, just a few days before Trump’s debut on the international stage, he has given allies new reasons to worry.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State plot to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last week. The information had been obtained by a US partner and shared with Washington, the Post reported.
“This is what Europeans have been worrying about,” one Western official said.
White House officials denied the story in several statements, including a 45-second on-camera statement delivered by Trump’s national security adviser.
But officials refused to answer specific questions, including what precisely the report had got wrong, ensuring it would dominate a week that White House officials hoped would be quiet in advance of the president’s first foreign trip.
At one point National Security adviser H.R. McMaster, who later delivered a televised denial, stumbled into journalists as he walked through the West Wing.
“There’s nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” McMaster said, without saying which elements were wrong.
“Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said reports that Trump had revealed highly classified information were “fake”, according to the Interfax news agency.
After high-stakes visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, Trump will meet some of Washington’s strongest European partners at a Nato summit in Brussels and the Group of Seven meeting in Sicily. Some of the leaders he’ll meet come from countries that share intelligence-sharing agreements with the US.
Trump has a contentious relationship with American spy agencies. He has questioned the competence of intelligence officials, challenged their assessment that Russia meddled in last year’s election to help him win, and accused them of leaking information about him and his associates.
Last week, Trump threw his administration into turmoil by taking the almost unprecedented step of firing his FBI director. But political and legal experts said the latest misstep was among the most egregious so far.
“This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States,” renowned legal expert Alan Dershowitz told CNN.
For Trump’s already weary allies in Congress, the latest crisis brought more headaches.
“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order. It’s got to happen,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker.
“Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now, and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips [with] all that’s happening.”
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer accused Trump of potentially putting American lives at risk: “If the report is true, it is very disturbing.”
Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse