President Donald Trump said today that he "never mentioned" Israel during his controversial Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, in which he reportedly disclosed classified information that could have compromised an Israeli intelligence source.
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"I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned it during our conversation," Trump said to reporters before his private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump was referring to his May 10 meeting at the White House with Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The president reportedly shared intelligence information from Israel about ISIS to the Russians.
He has defended his disclosure, arguing he has the right to share such information with Russia.
ABC News reported that his sharing of the information jeopardized exposing an Israeli spy who provided the intelligence on an active ISIS plot.
At a brief public appearance with Netanyahu today, Trump said he did not mention Israel at the fateful meeting.
"They're all saying I did," he said, "so you had another story wrong."
In fact, there were no allegations that Trump mentioned the source of the intelligence to the Russian officials.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was at the May 10 meeting, said in a press conference last week, "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly."
At today's public appearance, Netanyahu did not appear to be disturbed about Trump's disclosure of intelligence.
"The intelligence cooperation is terrific," Netanyahu said.
Trump's meeting with Netanyahu was just one highlight of his busy schedule since arriving in Israel around noon local time on Monday, the second stop of his first foreign trip as president.
He made history today, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. He was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his daughter Ivanka Trump. Donald Trump's visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, pleased Israeli officials. But in preparations for the visit, a junior U.S. official commented to Israelis that the site is "not your territory. It's part of the West Bank" — a remark that an Israeli official said was "received with shock."
Donning a yarmulke, Trump solemnly placed his hand on the Western Wall and, after taking a few moments, left a note behind.
Before arriving at the Western Wall, he and the first lady toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City — one of Christianity's holiest sites, where Jesus is believed to have been entombed. Trump delivered remarks alongside Rivlin, repeating what he wrote in the Israeli president's guestbook, saying, "I am honored to be in the great state of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people."
Donald and Melania Trump were greeted upon their arrival in Israel by Netanyahu; his wife, Sarah Netanyahu; Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; and his wife, Nehama Rivlin.
"On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to the sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel," Donald Trump said this morning on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
"We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together," he continued.
Later in the day as Trump and Netanyahu convened at the prime minister's residence, they continued to showcase their warm relationship, delivering complimentary words for each other.
"We understand each other," said Netanyahu. "And so much of the things that we wish to accomplish for both of our countries.”
Trump continued to express confidence in assisting Israel and Palestine in reaching a peace accord.
"It's not easy. I've heard it's one of the toughest deals of all,” Trump said. “But I have a feeling that we're going to get there eventually. I hope.”
Trump will not announce during his visit any move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a senior White House official who cautioned that it's not the right time for such a pronouncement, as the administration is focusing on brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Moving the embassy was a campaign promise of Trump's going back to the Republican primaries. In a March 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he vowed, "We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem."
Most foreign nations' embassies in Israel, including the United States' since 1966, are in Tel Aviv. Any move of the embassy to Jerusalem would likely be viewed as provocative to leaders of Arab nations and to Palestinians, who claim that city as the capital of a future state.
Trump does not expect to convene a joint meeting with Abbas and Netanyahu on this trip, although he hopes that will happen after another round of separate meetings with the leaders, the senior White House official said.
"We're not here to force people to do things one way or the other with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the official said.
The stop in Israel comes after Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and will be followed by a trip to the Vatican, where Trump will meet with the pope.