WASHINGTON // US president Donald Trump said on Tuesday he has “an absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia.
The president did not say whether he had revealed classified information about ISIL to Moscow, as published reports have said and as a US official confirmed on Tuesday.
The White House has pushed back against those reports, but has not denied that classified information was disclosed in a May 10 meeting between Mr Trump and Russian diplomats. The Kremlin dismissed the reports as “complete nonsense”.
The news reverberated around the world as countries started second-guessing their own intelligence-sharing agreements with the United States.
A senior European intelligence official said his country might stop sharing information with the US if it confirms that Mr Trump shared classified details with Russian officials. Such sharing “could be a risk for our sources”, the official said.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concern about the president’s disclosures. Republican Senator John McCain called the reports “deeply disturbing” and said they could affect the willingness of Washington’s allies and partners to share intelligence with the US.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, himself a Republican, called the intelligence uproar a distraction from the party’s priorities such as tax reform and replacing the health care law.
“I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” he told Bloomberg Business.
Meanwhile, Doug Andres, a spokesman for the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, said the speaker was looking for “a full explanation of the facts from the administration”.
And senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, called for congress to have immediate access to a transcript of Mr Trump’s meeting with the Russians, saying that if the president refuses, Americans will doubt that he is capable of safeguarding critical secrets.
At the White House, Mr Trump tweeted: “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.”
Mr Trump shared details about an ISIL terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, a senior US official said. 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 added.
Mr Trump was later 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.
The official would not say which country’s intelligence was divulged.
* Associated Press