US President Donald Trump sparked new controversy after he was accused of disclosing highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their latest meeting.
Trump revealed information about a planned ISIS operation, two US officials said on Monday, plunging the White House into another controversy just months into Trump’s short tenure in office.
The intelligence, shared at a meeting last week with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, was supplied by a US ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials with knowledge of the situation said.
The White House declared the allegations, first reported by the Washington Post, incorrect.
“The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” H.R. McMaster, 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.
Russia’s foreign ministry said reports that Trump had revealed highly classified information were “fake”, according to the Interfax news agency.
The White House also released a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the Oval Office meeting focused on counterterrorism, and from Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, who called the Washington Post story false.
Still, the news triggered concern in Congress.
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, called Trump’s conduct “dangerous” and “reckless”.
Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling” if true.
“Obviously, they’re 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.
One of the officials said the intelligence discussed by Trump in his meeting with Lavrov was classified “Top Secret” and held in a secure “compartment” to which only a handful of intelligence officials have access.
After Trump’s disclosure of the information, which one of the officials described as spontaneous, officials immediately called the CIA and the National Security Agency, 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 jeopardize a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement, the US officials said.
In his conversations with the Russian officials, 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.
Some US officials have told Reuters they have been concerned about disclosing highly classified intelligence to Trump.
One official, who requested anonymity to discuss dealing with the president, said last month: “He has no filter; it’s in one ear and out the mouth.”
One of the officials with knowledge of Trump’s meeting with the Russian called the timing of the disclosure “particularly unfortunate,” as the President prepares for a White House meeting on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, an ally in the fight against ISIS.
In the first international reaction to Trump’s alleged disclosure of sensitive information, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to comment on the Washington Post report or say whether the report will affect Australia’s intelligence-sharing agreement with the US.
Australia is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing program with the US, Canada, Britain and New Zealand.
Turnbull declined to comment specifically on the report, but said during an interview Tuesday with Adelaide radio station 5AA that he is confident in the Australia-US alliance. Turnbull called it “the bedrock of our national security.”