Trump says he had 'absolute right' to share info with Russia

The intelligence was said to be related to an ISIS terrorist threat.

ByABC News
May 16, 2017, 12:23 PM

— -- President Donald Trump pushed back on an explosive story in The Washington Post that he shared classified information with members of the Russian government during a meeting last week, arguing on Twitter that he had an "absolute right" to do so and engaged in the discussion for "humanitarian reasons."

Trump did not characterize the information as classified but as "facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety." The White House called the Post story "false."

"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 ISIS & terrorism," Trump wrote in a two-part tweet.

According to The Washington Post, the nature of the information was related to an Islamic State terrorist threat and gathered by a United States intelligence partner. The report says that Trump disclosed the information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak last Wednesday, even though Russia is not a partner in the intelligence-sharing arrangement from which the information originated.

As president, Trump has the legal power to declassify information, but officials worry these reported disclosures to the Russians could jeopardize that intelligence-sharing operation.

A senior U.S. official has confirmed two key details of the Post story to ABC News, namely that the White House was concerned enough after the meeting with the Russians that calls were placed to the CIA and NSA to relay information that the president had shared, and that notes on the meeting were edited in order to remove information that was deemed to be sensitive.

The official clarified these points by suggesting that the calls to intelligence agencies were intended to avoid any misunderstanding about what the president had shared, and that the redactions like what had taken place with the notes were routine occurrences.

The White House fervently denied allegations that the president gave away classified intelligence information to Russian officials in statements that were made Monday.

"The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation," said national security adviser H.R. McMaster. "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."

"I was in the room. It didn't happen," added McMaster.

"This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced," Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, said in a statement.

Neither McMaster or Powell specifically addressed the allegation that the president revealed classified information or the possibility that he may have jeopardized an intelligence-sharing operation.

Earlier in the day, McMaster ran into a group of reporters in the White House seeking comment on the story.

"This is the last place in the world I wanted to be," said McMaster, who left without answering questions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who met with Lavrov at the State Department before the foreign minister's visit to the White House last week, released a statement on the situation.

“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed, among which were common efforts and threats regarding counterterrorism," said Tillerson. "During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations."

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington would not comment on the matter and would not discuss the Russians' interactions with Trump.

On Capitol Hill, as news of the disclosure spread, senators on both sides of the aisle indicated their displeasure with the report.

"If it's accurate, it would be troubling," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, described the dispatch as "really shocking," and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called it "disturbing."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information and use of a private email server while secretary of state were key points of criticism by Trump and the GOP during last year's campaign.

Shortly after the nature of Trump's meeting with the Russians was revealed Monday, past statements by Trump and a number of Republicans as well as social media posts relating to Clinton's security practices resurfaced.

"Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team 'were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.' Not fit!" wrote Trump on Twitter last July.

"It's simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ w/ classified info should be denied further access to it," tweeted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about Clinton the same month, with a link to a press release titled "Speaker Ryan Presses for Action on Clinton Recklessness With Classified Information."

"Why should we trust Clinton with our nation's cybersecurity when she so recklessly jeopardized classified information?" asked then–Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, now the White House chief of staff, on Twitter last September.

The Democratic National Committee released a scathing statement in which it said Trump's actions "could end with him in handcuffs" if he were not the president.

"Russia no longer has to spy on us to get information — they just ask President Trump, and he spills the beans with highly classified information that jeopardizes our national security and hurts our relationships with allies," said the DNC.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Cecilia Vega, Mary Bruce, Arlette Saenz, Justin Fishel and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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