Donald Trump tries to brush off Russia leak scandal as nations begin to question US trust

The White House said Mr Trump was never briefed on the source of the information

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The Independent US

Donald Trump and the White House have sought to brush off the controversy over his sharing of highly sensitive material with Russia, as concerns grew that nations may decide to stop their intelligence cooperation.

As it was reported that Israel was the source of the information about an Isis terror plot that Mr Trump passed to the Russian Foreign Minister, the White House tried to insist the President had every right to act as he did. 

Mr Trump, who had apparently “spontaneously” decided to share the information with Russia, said he believed his actions would help in the fight against terrorism. 

National Security Advisor HR McMaster says Trump's conversations with Russian officials were 'wholly appropriate'

“We had a very, very successful meeting with the foreign minister of Russia,” Mr Trump said of his meeting in the Oval Office last week, with Sergei Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to Washington.

“We want to get as many to help fight terrorism as possible. And that’s one of the beautiful things that's happening with Turkey.”

Yet few people shared Mr Trump’s view. While much of of the public criticism was muted, in private there appeared to widespread concern about the potential damage the President had done. One senior European official, told the Associated Press, they may decide to stop intelligence sharing with the US, if it transpired Mr Trump had passed on classified information. 

“There could be a risk for our sources,” said the official.

Legal experts, along with the White House, said that in his position as president, Mr Trump had it in his executive powers to declassify material, and to share it, in a way that would represent a breach of the law if it was done by anyone else.

National security advisor HR McMaster told reporters in Washington he had been as the meeting with the Russian officials and had witnessed anything amiss.

Asked directly if Mr Trump had handed over classified information, Mr McMaster refused to answer.

“We don’t say what is classified, what it not classified,” he said. “What the president shared was wholly appropriate.”

“As you know, its wholly appropriate for the president to share information he decides is needed to advance the security of the American people.”

When he was pressed about when the decision was made to share the information - reportedly details of an Isis threat to use explosives in laptops - he said: “He made the decision in the context of the conversation, which was wholly appropriate.”

He also said that Mr Trump had not been briefed on the source of the material.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats sought to seize on Mr Trump’s actions. The Senate Intelligence Committee asked the White House for more information about what information was passed on.

Senior Republican John McCain, a senator from Arizona, said the report of Mr Trump sharing the information with Russia was “deeply disturbing”.

“Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians, was time he did not spend focussing on Russia’s aggressive behaviour, including its interference in American and European elections, it’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea,” he said.

The fact that Israel - one of America’s closest allies - was the source of the information passed on to Russia, will complicate Mr Trump’s first trip, on which he is due to embark this week. The first two stops are due to be Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In January, Israeli media reported that American officials had warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful what they told Mr Trump, as they feared it could be passed on to Russia. Israel will be particularity concerned that the details could make their way to Iran, a regional ally of Russia, but the nation Israel considers its main threat.

Israel has declined to confirm it was the source source of the information that Mr. Trump shared. In a statement published by the New York Times, Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, said: “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump.”

Yet, Mr Trump will struggle to throw off the impression of amateurism and his unwillingness or inability to deal with sensitive information, or difficult circumstances.

John Pike, a strategic and military analyst with the Washington-based, told The Independent, Mr Trump appeared unable not to “blurt out information”. “The main damage is to functioning of the American government, and its statecraft,” he said.