President Trump defends sharing terrorism ‘facts’ with Russians

(Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his right to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has “an absolute right” as president to do so.

Trump’s tweets did not say whether he revealed classified information about the Islamic State group, as published reports have said and as a U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The White House has pushed back against those reports, but has not denied that classified information was disclosed in the May 10 meeting between Trump and Russian diplomats.

In a pair of tweets, the president responded to a firestorm of criticism triggered by the reports.

“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,” Trump tweeted.

Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, a senior U.S official told The Associated Press. The classified information had been shared with the president by an ally, violating the confidentiality of an intelligence-sharing agreement with that country, the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, would not say which country’s intelligence was divulged.

The disclosure put a source of intelligence on the Islamic State at risk, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disclosure on Monday.

Trump later was informed that he had broken protocol and White House officials placed calls to the National Security Agency and the CIA looking to minimize any damage.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman denied the report. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, on Facebook on Tuesday described the reports as “yet another fake.”

The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have declined to comment.

The U.S. official said that Trump boasted about his access to classified intelligence in last week’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak. An excerpt to an official transcript of the meeting reveals that Trump told them, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” he said.

Kislyak has been a central player in the snowballing controversy surrounding possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election meddling.

The revelations drew strong condemnation from Democrats and a rare rebuke of Trump from some Republican lawmakers. White House officials denounced the report, saying the president did not disclose intelligence sources or methods to the Russians, though officials did not deny that classified information was disclosed in the May 10 meeting.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. “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.”

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