Donald Trump reportedly revealed highly classified information about Isis to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week.
The information revealed by the President while in the Oval Office, was said to have been provided to the US by an American ally through a sensitive intelligence sharing arrangement.
In a scoop that threatened still further to weaken the President's credibility and sent shock waves through the political universe, The Washington Post said the partner had not given permission for the information to be shared with Russia. After the meeting, White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and National Security Agency. It has not been reported which third country was involved. The British Embassy in Washington declined to comment when contacted by The Independent.
“This is code-word information,” one US official told the newspaper, a reference to one of the highest classification levels used by the American intelligence agencies. “[Trump] revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”
After the Post detailed Mr Trump’s alleged actions, reaction was swift and harsh.
Democratic senator Chris Murphy called it “another in a very disturbing trend of careless behaviour by this administration”.
“If this story is true, it’s another brick in the wall of a really, really troubling connection between Trump and the Russian government,” he said.
The development was the latest incident to shake Washington, still stunned by the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The White House has been scrambling to project a sense of order, after Mr Trump himself created mayhem by contradicting his own officials explanation for the firing.
The report on Monday evening said one the most concerning aspects of the slip, was that Mr Trump revealed the city in Isis territory where the US intelligence partner detected the threat. There were claims that Russia could use the information to undermine the US, or its ally.
Mr Trump’s national security advisor, HR McMaster, told the newspaper: “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organisations to include threats to aviation.”
He added: “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
Later, Mr McMaster told reporters in a brief statement delivered outside the White House, that the Post report was wrong and that at “at no time” were intelligence sources or methods discussed.
“I was in the room. It didn't happen,” he said.
During the election campaign, Mr Trump had often talked of the possibility of working with Russia to confront Isis. He frequently defended Russia’s military actions in Syria, disagreeing with many Western analysts to say Moscow’s role was crucial to stopping the spread of the Islamists.
The meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, took place one day after the firing of Mr Comey, something Mr Lavrov had joked about.
The Post said during that meeting, Mr Trump went off script and began describing details about an Isis threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.
It said that for anyone in government discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Mr Trump has authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.
In his meeting with Mr Lavrov, Mr Trump was said to have boasted about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Mr Trump reportedly said.
Mr Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States only learned from a key US partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence gathering method, but described how Isis was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances.
Mr Trump's identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic as Russia could use that detail to help identify the US ally, the newspaper said.
The Post said it was withholding most details of the plot. It quoted one former US intelligence counterterrorism official as saying: “Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling.”
Senior Republican senator John McCain called the allegations “disturbing”, if true. “We certainly don't want any president to leak classified information but the president does have the right to do that,” he added.
Another senior Republican with large experience in foreign and intelligence affairs, Senator Lindsey Graham, said: “I have no idea if it’s true. If it is, it would be very troubling. I'm not going to comment any further.”
Repubican Senator Bob Corker, a staunch supporter of Mr Trump, warned that the White House “has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order”.
Speculation about which intelligence partner of the United States provided the information shared by the president immediately focussed to the so-called Five Eye group. This is the vital alliance which has linked Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand with the US in an iron-solid intelligence-sharing arrangement since the end of World War II.
Mr Trump has frequently railed against people who leak information. He said in February: "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence" like candy. Very un-American."
A Russian photographer took photos of part of the meeting in the Oval Office that were then released by the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. No US news media was permitted to attend any part of the meeting.
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