Donald Trump’s reported disclosure of highly classified information to high-ranking Russian officials may be “a violation of the President’s oath of office” that could lead to his impeachment, national security lawyers have said.
The President reportedly divulged highly sensitive information about a planned Isis operation during a meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The intelligence was supplied by a US ally in the fight against the militant group, two officials with knowledge of the situation said.
“Questions of criminality aside ... If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office,” the experts said in a post on the legal blog Lawfare.
At his inauguration, the President pledged to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States" and “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
The authors added: “It’s very hard to argue that carelessly giving away highly sensitive material to an adversary foreign power constitutes a faithful execution of the office of President."
They go on to cite occasions on which oath violations were used or seriously considered as grounds to impeach previous Presidents including Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
"There’s thus no reason why Congress couldn’t consider a grotesque violation of the President’s oath as a standalone basis for impeachment—a high crime and misdemeanor in and of itself," the authors, who include a Harvard Law School professor, said.
Mr Trump’s administration was plunged into fresh controversy on Monday after The Washington Post reported the leak.
One official said the intelligence discussed by Mr Trump was classified “top secret” and only known by a handful of intelligence officials.
After Mr Trump reportedly disclosed the information in a manner described as spontaneous, officials immediately called the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), both of which have agreements with a number of allied intelligence services around the world, and informed them what had happened.
While the President has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardise a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement, the US officials said.
In his conversations with the Russian officials, Mr Trump appeared to be boasting about his knowledge of the looming threats, telling them he was briefed on “great intel every day,” an official with knowledge of the exchange said, according to the Post.
One of the officials with knowledge of Mr Trump's meeting with the Russian told Reuters the timing of the disclosure was “particularly unfortunate”, as the was President preparing for a White House meeting on Tuesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally in the fight against Isis.
The White House said the allegations were incorrect.
“The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” HR McMaster, Mr Trump's national security adviser, told reporters at the White House, adding that the leaders reviewed a range of common threats including to civil aviation.
“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The President did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known... I was in the room. It didn't happen,” he said.
The initial story by the Post, however, did not report that Mr Trump shared intelligence sources or methods with Russian officials, but rather the contents of the information gathered.
Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling” if true.
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
”Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now and they've got to come to grips with all that’s happening,“ he said of the White House.
The latest controversy came as Mr Trump's administration reels from the fallout over his abrupt dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey and amid congressional calls for an independent investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
Reuters contributed to this reportReuse content