The White House went into fresh damage control mode on Monday, pushing back against a Washington Post report that Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, the latest scandal to engulf the embattled White House.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster briefly spoke to reporters gathered at the White House and issued a terse denial without taking any questions. “The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” McMaster said.
“At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”
He concluded with, “I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”
The White House also issued statements from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, deputy national security adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and McMaster that attempted to pour cold water on the report.
“This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” Powell said in the statement.
The Post, citing current and former U.S. officials, reported Monday afternoon that Trump’s disclosures to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about a looming threat from the Islamic State risked jeopardizing an important intelligence source and could alienate intelligence allies.
While White House officials insisted Trump did not disclose intelligence sources or methods, the Post report did not say that he did. Instead, it said he described details of a specific threat, its potential for harm and where the threat was picked up.
The report quoted officials who said that information could have been enough to allow Russia to identify the U.S. ally involved or other details.
The report said that the information had been provided by a U.S. partner as part of an intelligence-sharing arrangement.
Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies,” one U.S. official told the Post.
While such a disclosure would not necessarily be illegal because the president has wide latitude to declassify material, it could still have far-reaching implications for the intelligence community and the United States’ relationship with allies.
Tillerson, in a statement, denied that any sources or methods were discussed.
“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism,” Tillerson said in a statement.
“During that exchange the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”
McMaster, who participated in the meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, said in a statement, “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations 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.”
The rebukes from both Republicans and Democrats were swift.
Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner on Monday characterized the report as alarming. “If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians,” Warner tweeted.
Meanwhile, Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee slammed Trump over the allegations.
“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do,” Corker told reporters. “That’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close, is to prevent that from happening.”
Eliot A. Cohen, a State Department counselor during the Bush administration who briefly helped recruit talent for the Trump administration, issued a scathing statement on Twitter. “This is appalling. If accidental, it would be a firing offense for anyone else. If deliberate, it would be treason,” he wrote.