White House Responds To Report Trump Revealed Classified Information To Russians
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The White House is pushing back on reports tonight that President Trump disclosed highly classified information to two top Russian officials. Last week, Trump hosted the Russian foreign minister and the ambassador at the Oval Office. According to a report in The Washington Post, Trump gave them intelligence information that the U.S. does not even share with some of its closest allies. NPR's Mara Liasson is covering this story and joins us now from the White House. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Describe what is alleged in this report.
LIASSON: Well, in this blockbuster report by The Washington Post, what is alleged is that when President Trump met with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office he shared information, classified information, that could lead the Russians to figure out sources and methods. And this information was collected by an ally. It wasn't our own information to disseminate.
According to The Washington Post, he was doing this in an offhand, bragging way, saying, I get the best intelligence, I get great intelligence. And then he proceeded to talk about this information, about a threat stream that the U.S. has been concerned about which has led the United States to consider banning laptops on certain international flights because they were getting threats that terrorists were preparing to use a laptop bomb.
Now, this would be illegal if anyone else did it, if anyone else released classified information. But the president can declassify something just by talking about it. So this kind of goes under the lawful but awful heading. And, of course, this meeting occurred just one day after the president fired the FBI director because he didn't like the way he was looking into possible collusion with Russia by his campaign.
SHAPIRO: The White House has been pushing back against this story at the highest levels. Tell us about what they've said.
LIASSON: Yes. We've gotten statements from the national security adviser, the secretary of state. H.R. McMaster, who is the national security adviser, came out to talk to the press today. And here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
H R MCMASTER: 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. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time - at no time - were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. 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. And I was in the room. It didn't happen.
LIASSON: What's interesting about that - he said the story is false. I was in the room. It didn't happen. What he didn't say is he didn't deny that the president disclosed classified information. He just said that he didn't disclose sources and methods or military operations. It's possible he gave the Russians enough classified information that they could have worked backward and figured out those sources and methods.
SHAPIRO: And what has the reaction from Congress been tonight?
LIASSON: Well, members of Congress have been reacting with shock and some with horror. Two Democrats are saying they want a tape of the meeting. The chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Republican Bob Corker, said that the White House is spiraling out of control. He said, they're in a downward spiral right now. They have to figure out how to get to grips with what's happening. That's very harsh.
The big question is just as the president is getting ready on - to go on his first big foreign trip to the Middle East and to Europe, what of our - which one of our allies would share intelligence with the U.S. again if they have no assurance that the president of the United States can keep it secret? The Washington Post story does not say he was doing this on purpose. They suggest that he didn't seem to know that he wasn't supposed to reveal this information.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson on reports out tonight that the president disclosed some highly classified information to top Russian officials, a report that the White House is pushing back against. And we will continue following this story as it unfolds. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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Correction May 15, 2017
A previous headline said the White House denied President Trump revealed classified information. It denied he revealed intelligence sources and methods.