Trump defends ‘absolute right’ to share ‘facts’ with Russia

Image result for Trump defends 'absolute right' to share 'facts' with RussiaUS President Donald Trump has defended his “absolute right” to share information with Russia, following a row over classified material.

Mr Trump tweeted that he had shared “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety” and wanted Russia to do more against so-called Islamic State.

He met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office last week.

US media said Mr Trump had shared material that was passed on by a partner which had not given permission.

A report in the Washington Post said Mr Trump had confided top secret information relating to an IS plot thought to centre on the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

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Mr Trump’s move is not illegal, as the US president has the authority to declassify information.

The action drew strong criticism from Democrats and a call for an explanation from his own Republican party.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for more information on the reports. Meanwhile, CIA Director Mike Pompeo is due to brief the committee later on Tuesday.

What was the president’s defence?

Mr Trump tweeted: “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.

“Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against [IS] & terrorism.”

It is not clear if Mr Trump was acknowledging having shared intelligence secrets with the Russian officials, thus contradicting White House statements, or whether he was simply trying to explain what had been discussed.

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The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher in Washington says this was a carefully constructed defence of the meeting, in which President Trump frames any revelation of intelligence information as a calculated move to advance US national security priorities.

After all, the controversy that swirled around the White House on Monday night was never legal, it was political, and this defence may be enough for Republicans to rally around, he adds.

Top Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer has called on the White House to release the transcripts of the meeting.

What happened in the Oval Office?

In a conversation with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office, the president revealed details that could lead to the exposure of a source of information, officials told the Washington Post.

Media captionWhen Trump slammed Clinton over classified material

The intelligence disclosed came from a US ally and was considered too sensitive to share with other US allies, the paper reported.

Others at the meeting realised the mistake and scrambled to “contain the damage” by informing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), says the Post.

The meeting came a day after Mr Trump fired his FBI chief, James Comey, sparking criticism that he had done so because the FBI was investigating his election campaign’s alleged Russian ties.

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How has the White House responded?

Pressed by reporters on Tuesday, National Security Adviser HR McMaster declined to say whether or not Mr Trump had shared classified information with the Russians.

He denied the US president had caused a “lapse in national security”.

Media captionMcMaster: ‘Trump not even briefed on intel source or method’

“What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged.”

He also said President Trump had not been aware of the source of information that was discussed with the Russian officials.

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Golden rule: Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

Despite the denials issued by the White House that any actual intelligence sources were revealed to the Russians, whatever was said in that Oval Office meeting was enough to alarm certain officials and, reportedly, to alert the CIA and NSA.

They in turn will have needed to warn the country that supplied the intelligence. There is a golden rule in the world of espionage that when one government supplies intelligence to another it must not be passed on to a third party without permission of the original supplier. The reason is simple: it could put the lives of their human informants at risk.

In this case it appears to relate to the discovery of plans by jihadists in Syria to devise a way of smuggling viable explosive devices on board a plane inside a laptop computer. Given the well-publicised ban on laptops in cabins on certain Middle Eastern routes, whoever revealed that information is unlikely to be still in place.


What has the reaction been?

  • “This is dangerous and reckless” – Dick Durbin, Senate’s second-highest ranked Democrat
  • “Mr President, this isn’t about your ‘rights’, but your responsibilities. You could jeopardise our sources, relationships and security” – Adam Schiff, top Democrat on House Intelligence Committee
  • “A troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future” – Republican Senator John McCain

Media captionChuck Schumer: “President Trump may have exposed our nation to greater risk”
  • “We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount” – spokesperson for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan
  • Congress could do with “a little less drama from the White House” – Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader
  • “We generally do not want to have anything to do with this nonsense” – Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman
  • “If true, this is not going to instil confidence in allies already wary of sharing the most sensitive information” – senior Nato diplomat quoted by Reuters

Levels of US classification – from lowest to highest

  • Confidential: Information that reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security if disclosed to unauthorised sources. Most military personnel have this level of clearance
  • Secret: The same wording in the first sentence above, except it substitutes serious damage
  • Top Secret: Again, the same wording except to substitute exceptionally grave damage
  • Codeword: Adds a second level of clearance to Top Secret, so that only those cleared with the codeword can see it. Administered by the CIA. The material discussed by Mr Trump with the Russians was under a codeword, sources told the Washington Post.
[“Source-bbc”]