US President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister, according to reports, jeopardizing a crucial intelligence source. The White House has called the allegations "false."
In a report published Monday, the Washington Post cited testimony from current and former US officials who said President Donald Trump offered classified details to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a White House meeting last week.
The information came from a key US intelligence source on the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group who had not given the administration permission to share the material with Moscow.
During Lavrov and Kisylak's visit to the Oval Office on May 10, Trump allegedly went off-script and offered details related to an IS terror plan involving laptops on airplanes, the Post reported. According to anonymous officials, the information sharing jeopardizes a highly-sensitive intelligence partnership that has given the US privileged insight into the internal organization of IS.
Lavrov and Trump discussed Syria and other international affairs during the visit to the White House
Trump "revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies," the Post quoted a former US official close to the matter as having said. The information was reportedly of such a sensitive nature that its details were withheld even within the ranks of the US government.
After the White House meeting, administration officials placed calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) in an attempt to limit the damage done, the Post wrote.
The paper also noted it was withholding the terror plot details at the advice of officials to prevent risking intelligence capabilities. In recent days, the US has mulled over expanding a ban on laptops in airline passenger cabins to include flights originating in Europe.
White House disputes report
White House officials denied the Washington Post's account in statements from several administration officials, including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who had been present at last week's meeting.
In a 45-second on-camera statement given in front of White House press reporters, McMaster disputed the paper's account, denying that any "sources or methods" were discussed in the closed-door conversation.
"The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation," McMaster said. "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly."
McMaster, who was present at the May 10 meeting, said the Washington Post's reported disclosure "didn't happen"
However, the Post did not claim in their report that specific information pertaining to intelligence-gathering methods were shared, and McMaster failed to address the heart of the Post's argument - that the President had revealed information obtained from sensitive sources.
Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell joined McMaster in calling the story "false" while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Oval Office conversation between Trump and Lavrov had revolved around counterterrorism.
However, no Trump official pointed out precisely what information in the Post's report was in error.
Because the president has wide authority to declassify government secrets, Trump's alleged revelations of government secrets to an adversary do not likely break the law. However, unnamed sources in the report described Trump's behavior as "reckless," and they questioned his ability to understand political consequences.
Divulging information on an IS intelligence-gathering partner to Russia is problematic as Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad, whereas the US supports anti-Assad rebels. Russia could use the divulged details to identify Washington's intelligence partner on the ground and possibly disrupt the source's intelligence-gathering capabilities.
'Slap in the face'
The meeting between Trump and the Russian officials came just one day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been heading up an agency probe into possible links between Moscow and Trump's campaign team.
Comey's sudden dismissal unleashed reprimands from across the political spectrum, and Monday's report once again quickly drew sharp criticism of the US president.
Mark Warner, a senator from Virginia and the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that should the report prove true, it would be a "slap in the face" to American intelligence agencies.
Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin called for an investigation into the matter.
Republicans have also expressed their concern over the report, though they emphasized the Post's accusations had yet to be proved.
Senator John McCain of Arizona tweeted he would find it "deeply disturbing" should the allegations prove to be true.
Republican Bob Corker, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, similarly described the Post's report as "very, very troubling" if true.
Trump's presidency has been shadowed by allegations of ties to Russia. Alongside the ongoing investigation into alleged campaign communication with Russian officials, Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned just weeks after stepping into the role after it was revealed he lied about phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador.