US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said on Tuesday that it was “wholly appropriate” for President Donald Trump to share classified information with Russian officials during their meeting in the Oval Office last week.
Trump decided to mention the information in the “context of the conversation” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, McMaster told reporters in the White House, calling it “wholly appropriate to that conversation” and “consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leader with whom he’s engaged”.
During those conversations, Trump disclosed the city from which the intelligence was derived, McMaster confirmed.
However, McMaster did not make clear if the information was highly classified as the Washington Post reported one day earlier.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he has “the absolute right” to share certain information with Russia.
“As President 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 the IS & terrorism,” he said in a pair of tweets on Tuesday.
But the president also did not specifically say whether he spilled highly classified information to Russian officials.
Trump reportedly relayed information from a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The related information-sharing arrangement was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, according to the Post report.
In response, McMaster, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell all issued statements later on Monday, claiming such reports are wrong.
Powell said in a statement: “This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”
“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly,” said McMaster, who participated in the meeting.
The Post report said Trump appeared to be boasting of the “great intel” he receives when he described a looming terror threat, citing an official with knowledge of the exchange.
The information was provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. The partner did not give the US permission to share the information with Russia, the Post said.
Following the meeting, the White House contacted the CIA and National Security Agency to contain the damage, according to the Post.
As US President Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that such disclosures broke the law. However, he is facing a deepening trust crisis as a new poll released Tuesday finds nearly half of US voters (48 per cent) said they would support Trump’s impeachment, while only 41 per cent would oppose such charges.
The White House is in a “downward spiral” and needs to do something to get “under control”, Republican Senator Bob Corker said following the Post report.
Trump’s approval ratings have been hovering in the high 30s and 40s. According to Gallup, Trump has the lowest approval of any new president since the surveys began in 1953.