Breaking News Emails
President Donald Trump is defending his "absolute right" to share certain information with Russia after bombshell reports emerged that he revealed highly classified intelligence with Russian officials last week.
"As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism," he said in a pair of Tuesday morning tweets.
Trump has often made a point of disparaging those who leak information from inside the White House. He also tweeted Tuesday that he had asked former FBI Director James Comey, whom he fired last week in a surprise move, "from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community....."
The latest revelation, first reported Monday by The Washington Post, cited current and former U.S. officials who said Trump's disclosure to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week involved one of the United States' valuable intelligence sources on ISIS. The arrangement with the unidentified source was so sensitive, according to reports, that the details were not shared with even U.S. allies and members of the government.
Trump in his tweets Tuesday didn't specifically say whether he spilled such information to Russian officials.
But in response to those reports, Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told the press Monday that "at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. I was in the room, and it didn't happen."
During a briefing later Tuesday at the White House with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump called the meeting with the Russian envoy "very, very successful" and said McMaster acknowledged they had "a great meeting with the foreign minister."
"We're going to have a lot of great success over the next coming years," Trump said, "and we want to get as many to help fight terrorism as possible, and that's one of the beautiful things that's happending with Turkey."
The reports, however, don't allege that Trump disclosed sources or methods of gathering intelligence — only that he imparted disclosed information that could help the Russians identify those assets.
A source with direct knowledge of the conversation told NBC News they believe the information shared was much ado about nothing, and had to do with previous reports that ISIS was looking at using laptops as weapons on airplanes.
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that while Trump's reported disclosure may not be illegal, there is still the potential of putting the U.S.'s source in jeopardy.
"In the opinion of many intelligence committee members, there is a jeopardy to our national security because disclosure about this laptop plot, including the city where it was detected, in ISIS territory, could jeopardize lives or sources," Blumenthal said on TODAY. "And it also threatens our credibility in dealing with partners and allies, who provide extraordinarily valuable and sensitive information. There may be no law broken, but the rules and norms have clearly been crossed here."
He added that Congress must subpoena any transcripts and tapes to determine what exactly Trump may have said: "Those transcripts would reveal whether classified information was shared with the Russians."
Another Senate Judiciary Committee member, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, called it "weird" that Trump would want to be so open with the Russians.
"We and the Russians do not have aligned interests," Sasse said on MSNBC. "They want to exacerbate our internal distrusts of each other, they want to fracture NATO, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is an enemy of the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly which is the beating heart of what America means."
The U.S. has been at odds with Russia over its support of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting against rebels in the country's six-year civil war. But both the U.S. and Russia are backing Kurdish YPG fighters as they take on ISIS, which is attempting to hold on to territory there and in Iraq.
Members of Trump's presidential campaign, however, have been accused of having potential ties with Kremlin officials — which is part of an ongoing investigation by Congress and U.S. intelligence agencies into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Questions have also swirled around meetings between Russian officials and current and former members of Trump's administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
After months of questioning intelligence reports, Trump finally said in Januarythat he believed Russia was behind the hacks.
Trump last week fired Comey, later telling NBC News that he ousted him for being a "showboat," while revealing that he had previously asked Comey whether he was under investigation for having alleged ties to Russia. His reasoning for canning Comey contradicted his aides and other White House officials.
Meanwhile, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday dismissed the reports that Trump last week shared classified information about U.S. sources in Syria, calling them "nonsense," according to Russia's state-run TASS agency.
"We do not want to have anything to do with this nonsense. This is utter nonsense. It is not something to either confirm or deny," Peskov said.
Trump did have broader conversations with the Russians at the White House about counterterrorism and threats to civilians on airplanes, according to reports. A Russian-owned Metrojet flight was downed in 2015 over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in a suspected terrorist bombing claimed by ISIS.