Update: Early Tuesday (May 16), Trump said on Twitter he had shared information with Russian officials on terrorism and airline safety, disputing earlier White House reports.
US president Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials visiting the White House last week, according to multiple reports.
The information, provided to the US by an unnamed foreign intelligence partner, related to the Islamic State terrorist threat connected to the use of laptop computers on an airplane, reported the Washington Post (paywall). The intel was so sensitive that its circulation was restricted within the US government, and provided by a foreign ally that closely guards its own secrets, the New York Times reports (paywall).
“It’s far worse than what has already been reported,” a US official told BuzzFeed, without going into specifics.
Trump spoke with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office on May 10. White House officials realized the gaffe soon after the meeting, and Thomas P. Bossert, the assistant to the president for homeland security, was dispatched to warn other US intelligence agencies, the Washington Post reported. A subordinate was also dispatched to strike the statements from an official transcript of the meeting.
Separately, Trump’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller accidentally revealed the cell phone number of Department of Defense head James Mattis last week, the Washington Post reported. Currently the director of Oval Office operations, Schiller was photographed walking on the White House grounds carrying a sheaf of papers with a sticky note attached reading “Jim, Mad Dog, Mattis,” along with a phone number. A reporter who dialed the number reached general Mattis’s voicemail.
Trump spent much of his 2016 presidential campaign heavily criticizing former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for using a private server for work emails, something the FBI later called “extremely careless.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has been a vocal critic of Clinton as well, and his earlier remarks are now being gleefully retweeted by his critics.
While the US president is able to reveal classified information without committing a crime, Trump’s mistake is the latest example of the White House’s striking lack of discipline. Last week’s unexpected firing of FBI head James Comey, coupled with Trump’s later admission that he was motivated in part by the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement in the US election, has even lead to talk of a constitutional crisis in Washington.
There’s little doubt that Trump new blunder will only increase calls for Congress and Trump’s advisors to get the volatile president under control.
The Trump administration quickly moved to try to discredit the multiple reports. Dina Powell, the deputy national security advisor for strategy, said the story was “false,” in a statement distributed by the White House. “The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” Powell added.
Update: H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, who also participated in the meeting, gave a statement: “At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” The Washington Post’s national editor called this a “non-denial denial” on Twitter, noting that the story had not alleged that sources or methods were discussed.