WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials during a meeting at the White House last week, according to anonymous current and former U.S. officials.
Initially reported by the Washington Post on Monday evening, the officials claim that the president’s disclosures to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, jeopardized critically sensitive intelligence on the Islamic State.
Trump reportedly relayed details which had been given to a U.S. ally through an agreed upon intelligence sharing partnership. The unnamed officials say that the portions of the information Trump disclosed are so sensitive, even other U.S. allies have been barred from viewing the data.
The intelligence sharing partner who turned over the data, did not give permission to share the information with Russia. The Washington Post said that senior White House Officials were in damage control mode after Trump’s meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Kremlin’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak on May 10, calling both the CIA and the National Security Agency.
Specifically, officials claim that during the meeting, Trump described details to the Russian representatives regarding the Islamic State’s terror threat related to using laptop computers on aircraft.
Typically, for most government employees, discussing classified matters with a political or national adversary would be illegal. But, as president of the United States, Trump does have the authority to declassify secret government documents at will.
Though far outside traditional norms, his disclosure to Lavrov and Kislyak may not technically be considered a legal violation.
The news comes a week after Trump fired FBI director James Comey amid a pending investigation by the bureau into his campaign’s possible ties with Russia and the meddling which occurred in the 2016 presidential election.
The president took additional heat from critics and lawmakers alike, when he was seen as apparently admitting that he fired Comey based on “this Russia thing” during a recent interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.
Critics of the president have said that this statement by the president could be seen as an attempt to obstruct justice.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who also participated in the meeting, said that the president and the foreign minister merely discussed shared threats that their nations face from terrorist organizations, including those that plague the aviation industry.
“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly,” McMaster said.
Despite the reassurance, the anonymous officials said that the president’s handling of the highly sensitive information could threaten to expose intelligence gathering against the Islamic State and could undermine the U.S.’s ability to spot dangers lurking in the horizon.
A former senior U.S. official called the ordeal “kind of shocking” and dubbed Trump as “very reckless” and unable to “grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security.”
Further, the official added, the president’s judgment is “all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”
On Monday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders released a statement saying, “President Trump, in a reckless and dangerous manner, has revealed highly classified information to the Russians at a meeting in the Oval Office, information that could expose extremely important sources and methods of intelligence gathering in the fight against ISIS.
“Further, this could endanger intelligence sharing with a key ally in the Middle East,” Sanders continued. “Protecting our national security is one of the most important tasks a president has, and Trump is failing at it. This new disclosure comes one week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was in the midst of an investigation of possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government in the recent election.
“All of this makes it vitally important that Trump make public any recordings he has of conversations in the Oval Office. We also need to proceed as soon as possible with the appointment of a special prosecutor,” the senator said.
According to officials who spoke with The Washington Post, Trump boasted of his insider knowledge of the looming threat.
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the source alleges.
Though he did not reveal the specific intel gathering methods used, the source says that he did describe the Islamic State’s pursuit of elements specific to a terror plot and the amount of harm it might inflict. The officials added that Trump also revealed the specific city where the U.S. intelligence partner identified the threat.
This could be especially troublesome since Russia could use the information to coordinate the identities of U.S. allies or their intelligence agencies involved and further identify techniques used by these agencies.
On its face, the information did not actually belong to the U.S. and as such, it is not eligible for distribution.
The officials would not name the ally who gathered the information but added that if they had learned that the U.S. provided this information to Russia without their express consent, it would hurt Washington’s relationship with that ally.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would consider banning laptops and other large electronics on flights from the U.S. to Europe and back. A ban on laptops has already been placed on 10 Muslim-majority nations by the U.S. and Britain.