Donald Trump did not know where the intelligence he shared with Russian officials was from, the White House has revealed in an admission that stunned many in an already reeling Washington.
US National Security Adviser HR McMaster made the admission at the tail end of a heated press conference over reports that the president had revealed highly classified national security information to Russian officials.
The intelligence is said to have come from an American ally in the Middle East, via a sensitive intelligence sharing arrangement. But Mr McMaster said on Tuesday that the president "wasn’t even aware where this information came from" and "wasn’t briefed on the sources and methods".
The Washington Post first reported that the president had revealed "code word" level information about Isis plots to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister at a White House meeting last week. The revelation drew outcry from Democrats and Republicans alike, but Mr McMaster defended Mr Trump's actions as "wholly appropriate".
"In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that investigation," Mr McMaster said.
Under current US law, the president has the power to declassify information as he or she sees fit.
While technically legal, many in Washington believed Mr Trump's disclosures amounted to a breach of foreign information-sharing protocol. A senior European intelligence official told the Associated Press that their country may stop sharing intelligence with the US, citing "a risk for our sources".
Mr McMaster said he had not reached out to any of the US's foreign intelligence-sharing partners on the issue, but was "not concerned” that they would cease operations.
However, the security adviser declined to confirm whether classified information had been shared at the meeting, and whether the president had revealed the location of the plot in question.
"All of you know ISIS," Mr McMaster told reporters. "It was nothing you wouldn't be able to know from open source reporting."
Mr McMaster also revealed that Mr Trump decided to declassify the information "in the context of the conversation" with Russian officials, not beforehand.
Mr Trump, in a tweet sent Tuesday morning, cited "humanitarian reasons" for making the disclosure.
"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," he wrote.
These statements from the president and security adviser contradicted the White House line from the night before, when Mr McMaster stood in the Rose Garden and claimed that "the story that came out tonight as reported is false".
Mr McMaster clarified his comments on Tuesday, saying: "What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false".
The White House has not denied that the president shared classified information with Russian officials.
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