The Trump administration is in damage control mode after explosive reports that the president shared highly sensitive classified information with Russia. NBC News tracks the latest developments.
Fired FBI Director James Comey wrote an internal memo saying President Donald Trump asked him to shut down an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of the memo told NBC News on Tuesday.
Israel was the source of ISIS-related intelligence that President Donald Trump shared with Russia last week, according to three government officials with knowledge of the matter.
At a Besieged White House, Tempers Flare and Confusion Swirls (The New York Times):
In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.
European Country Might Halt US Intel Sharing (The Associated Press):
"A senior European intelligence official tells The Associated Press that his country might stop sharing information with the United States if it confirms President Donald Trump shared classified details with Russian officials. The official said Tuesday that doing so "could be a risk for our sources."
"When it comes to classification issues and those kinds of things, he's not above the law," said Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a criminal defense lawyer who has done significant work on cases involving classified information. "He basically is the law."
The fundraising email, sent off the news of Trump's latest crisis, quotes adviser Steve Bannon and invites supporters to "contribute $1 to drain the swamp."
Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, calls for former FBI chief James Comey to return before open sessions of House committees to testify about his dealings with President Trump.
"Enough is enough. Congress needs to get to the bottom of this," Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters moments after news broke that fired FBI Director James Comey had written a memo saying Trump had urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Schiff's statement prompted Huckabee to attempt a humorous tweet.
Anyway, remember when Trump linked Sen. Ted Cruz's dad to JFK's assassination?
Fired FBI Director James Comey wrote a internal memo in which he said that President Donald Trump asked him to shut down an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a source close to Comey told NBC News on Tuesday.
The memo was part of a paper trail Comey built documenting what he believed to be Trump's campaign to derail the FBI's investigation of alleged Russian ties to his presidential campaign.
A second source, a former federal law enforcement official, also confirmed the existence of the memo to NBC News.
The unclassified memo was first reported by The New York Times.
- National Security Reporter Ken Dilanian, Reporter Alex Johnson, National Correspondent Peter Alexander
Along with potentially alienating a key U.S. intelligence gathering partner, President Donald Trump may have directly put people in danger by disclosing classified information to Russian officials during a meeting last week.
Some Democratic lawmakers and former intelligence officials warned that, depending on what exactly Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the lives of those gathering the intel provided by Israel to the U.S. may now be at risk.
"They may have agents in the field using a sensitive collection system. They may have an electronic collection system. Whatever it is, Israel is going to be pulling it out right now because they are not going to take any chances that whoever they have that is this close to ISIS is going to survive for the next 24 hours," Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. intelligence official, said on MSNBC on Tuesday.
Democrats as well cautioned in broad terms that Trump's disclosures could also put U.S. lives in danger. However, it remains largely unclear what exact information the president reportedly shared and how it would directly threaten American lives.
"Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Monday.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said the information Trump divulged to the Russians was "wholly appropriate" while speaking to reporters Tuesday.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer did not confirm the intelligence came from his country, but said in a statement that 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."
- Political Reporter Andrew Rafferty
- Sen. Rand Paul, while jogging away from a reporter: "No comment."
- Sen. Ted Cruz: "Just call our press office — I'm headed to the health care meeting."
- Sen. John Hoeven: "We need to get more information on it."
- Sen. Chuck Grassley: "I'm going to wait until I get a briefing, a secure briefing on it, before I make any statement on that."
- Sen. Marco Rubio: "I'm not disputing it, I'm not admitting it, I just want to know more."
- Sen. Tim Scott, asked if he had an opinion outside a Senate hearing: "None."
- Sen. Mitch McConnell: "I think we can do with a little less drama from the White House."
- Sen. Jeff Flake: "It would be nice to have a drama-free week."
Amid confirmation by NBC News and The New York Times that Israel was the source of the highly classified intelligence the president reportedly disclosed to Russian diplomats, the Israeli ambassador is out with a statement seemingly aimed at smoothing over the charged situation.
"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," Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said
Two U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News that many people inside the U.S. intelligence community dispute National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster's characterization that President Donald Trump's sharing of sensitive terrorism intelligence with the Russian foreign minister was "appropriate."
The reason White House counter terrorism adviser Tom Bossert alerted the CIA and the NSA shortly after the meeting, these officials said, is that Trump shared intelligence about the laptop bomb threat derived from a partner country.
McMaster confirmed that Trump also disclosed the city in ISIS-held Syria from which that intelligence emanated.
McMaster said in a briefing early Tuesday afternoon, "It was nothing that you would not know from open source reporting."
But U.S. intelligence officials are concerned that the disclosure could compromise the source of the information, will lead the partner to stop sharing and will make other countries reluctant to share intelligence with the United States.
- MSNBC Politics Managing Editor Dafna Linzer and National Security Reporter Ken Dilanian
That didn't last long.
After interviewing to lead the FBI — and the nation's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia — on Saturday, Sen. John Cornyn pulled his name from consideration Tuesday. He drops out amid a flurry of explosive reports that the president gave highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats.
"Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI Director. I've informed the Administration that I'm committed to helping them find such an individual, and that the best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate," he said in a statement.
Amid reports that he compromised America's national security by revealing classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, President Donald Trump boasted that the meeting in question was a success.
"We had a very, very successful meeting with the Russian minister," the president said after joint remarks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. "We're going to have a lot of great success over the next years, and we want to get as many people to help fight terrorism as possible."
Normally, when the U.S. government wants to share intelligence with Russia, there is an elaborate vetting process, current and former officials say. Sometimes the reports are marked "REL Russia," for "releasable Russia."
"There is a process for sharing releasable intelligence with the Russians," Eric Pelofsky, a former National Security Council senior director, told NBC News. "For the president, it could take a few hours — and it would be sanitized in a way that would be respectful of the risk. And, likely as part of that process, our intelligence community would engage our intelligence partner so that we would not jeopardize the continuing flow of intelligence from them."
-National Security Reporter Ken Dilanian
McMaster said the president "wasn't briefed on the source of the information," suggesting the president wasn't properly briefed on what he shared.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster continued to dispute that the president damaged American national security by disclosing intelligence to Russian diplomats, but didn't deny that the disclosure occurred as he had seemed to do on Tuesday.
"I stand by my statement that I made yesterday," McMaster said. "What I'm saying is that the premise of that article is false, that the president had any kind of conversation that was inappropriate or that there was a lapse national security at all."
The White House aide sought to spin the leak to the Washington Post as the real problem, but left more questions unanswered than not. Asked why a White House aide Thomas P. Bossert reached out to the directors of American intelligence agencies about the meeting, he suggested it was "out of an abundance of caution." Asked how the president decided to disclose the information, McMaster declined to say exactly how the president came to that decision.
Tell us what you really think, Chuck Schumer.
In a seven-minute speech on the Senate floor, the Senate Minority Leader demanded the release of transcripts of Trump's meeting with the Russian foreign minister.
A few choice quotes.
- "If this report is in indeed true, it would mean that the president may have badly damaged our national security, nothing less, and in several ways."
- "If the reporting is accurate, in one fell swoop, the president could have unsettled our allies, emboldened our adversaries, endangered our military and intelligence officers world over and exposed our nation to greater risk."
- "Following so closely after Mr. Comey's firing which was rationalized to the press and the American public in several different ways over the course of a week, this administration now faces a crisis of credibility."
- "The truth, as it were, sits atop shifting sands in this administration."
Senators are under siege today, and no, it's not the midterms.
With an army of reporters traipsing the Senate floors, Republicans and Democrats alike are all being asked: What do you think of Trump's intel disclosure?
"Loose lips sink ships," declared Delaware Democrat Sen. Tom Carper outside a Senate Finance Committee meeting, while Michigan Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow was more blunt in her declaration that "the president is dangerous."
Republicans bobbed and weaved.
Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio said he'd reached out to the White House for answers.
"If it's accurate, it's concerning," South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune said carefully.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott ducked when asked if he had any comment: "None."