Donald Trump sharing classified intelligence with Russia 'may breach his oath of office', say national security experts

'There’s no reason why Congress couldn’t consider a grotesque violation of the President’s oath as standalone basis for impeachment', say lawyers

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The Independent US

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.

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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.

€”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 report

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