Donald Trump

Trump administration sees no hazard in intel-sharing with Russia

The US president’s decision to disclose classified counterterrorism data touched off new criticism, some of it from the Republican Party

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 4:42am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 7:02am

The administration of US President Donald Trump insisted the chief executive’s decision to share classified information with Russia’s foreign minister and US ambassador created no danger for US intelligence officials and will not threaten relations with America’s allies because the source of the information wasn’t divulged.

In a briefing held away from news cameras, White House press secretary Sean Spicer would not confirm a report that Israel was the source of the intelligence that President Trump shared with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a White House meeting last week.

The New York Times had reported that Israel provided the information that Trump disclosed. The US obtained the information on an Islamic State group plot from Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement between the two countries, the Times reported.

Earlier, US national security adviser H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s decision to share counterterrorism information with the Russian officials, saying the exchange “was wholly appropriate” because Trump didn’t share the source of the intelligence or how the information was gathered.

McMaster spoke to reporters just a few hours after Trump asserted in a tweet that he had an “absolute right” to share information with Russia as part of efforts to fight Islamic State and terrorism.

Spicer also said he stands by McMaster’s account that it would be impossible for the president to review the source of the information, because ”General McMaster made it very clear the president wasn’t briefed on the information and wasn’t aware of the source”.

Spicer would not confirm if a formal or informal investigation into this leak by the intelligence community would take place.

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The White House believes that the information - distributed to perhaps two dozen national security and intelligence officials after the meeting between President Trump and Russian diplomats - led to a story about the intelligence-sharing in the Washington Post, the Weekly Standard reported.

News that Trump shared intelligence about Islamic State operations in the Middle East with Russian officlals sparked a new wave of criticism against Trump, some of it from his own Republican Party.

Those criticising Trump’s move argued that releasing information to the Russians puts intelligence officials and security alliances in jeopardy.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Bloomberg TV interview that he wished for “a little less drama from the White House”. Senator Robert Corker, also a Republican, was quoted in the media as saying Trump and his team are “in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening”.

The latest controversy surrounding Trump comes at a sensitive time because the president was already facing criticism for firing his FBI director, who was investigating connections between Trump associates and Russian officials. Also, Trump is scheduled to depart on Friday for meetings with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel and other heads of state in the Middle East in his first overseas diplomatic mission.