National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Monday said The Washington Post report claiming President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to two top Russian officials last week is "false."
McMaster gave a brief statement to reporters outside the White House shortly after 7 p.m. ET, saying, "There is nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false."
Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation," McMaster, who was present at the meeting, said. "At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed."
Trump also did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known, he said, noting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, who also were present, have said the same thing.
"Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources," he said, referencing the Post report that did not name its sources.
"I was in the room; it didn't happen," McMaster said, before turning to walk back into the White House, ignoring shouted questions from the press.
Trump shared highly classified information with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak during a White House meeting last week, possibly hurting relations with a partner who is sharing information on the Islamic State (ISIS), according to the Post's report posted on its website Monday afternoon.
The story cited current and former U.S. officials who said Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamist terrorist group. The information on intelligence-gathering is considered so sensitive it is not even shared with most of America's closest allies and is held close to the vest within the U.S. government itself, the Post quoted U.S. officials.
The partner that provided the information did not give permission to share it with Russia, and Trump's doing so may have given them pause to continue working with the United States, since they already have complained in the past about the United States' ability to keep such information secret.
"This is code-word information," one official told the Post, meaning the information has one of the highest classifications.
The person said the president had "revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies."
Trump likely did not break the law, however, because as president he has the authority to declassify government secrets.
Officials in the room were quick to recognize Trump had overshared, the Post reported, and made efforts to neutralize the situation.
According to the Post, Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, quickly called the CIA and NSA directors, since those agencies are most closely involved with the partner. An employe of Bossert then called for that part of the meeting's transcript to be taken out of internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small number of people in order to prevent leaks.
"Trump seems to be very reckless, and doesn't grasp the gravity of the things he's dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security," one former U.S. officials with ties to current members of the administration said. "And it's all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia."
The meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak came one day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as his agency was reportedly ramping up its probe into whether members of Trump's campaign team colluded with the Russian government to swing the election.
Democrats have called on an investigation into whether the firing of Comey was related to the Russia probe.
One official reportedly in the room during the meeting said Trump appeared to be boasting about how much he knew about the threat from ISIS, according to the Post's account.
"I get great intel; I have people brief me on great intel every day," Trump reportedly told the Russian officials.
Lavrov appeared to make little response, officials told the Post, but a former U.S. officials who dealt with intelligence on Russia added, "I'm sure Kislyak was able to fire off a good cable back to the Kremlin with all the details."
The official readout of the meeting did not mention a terrorist threat.
The information dealt with a specific plot and how the United States was planning to deal with it, according to the Post, which withheld information on the city involved.
The fact the city was named could give Russia information about the operations, officials said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Va., told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, while a president has the right to declassify information, he should then tell the American people, explain why, and explain whether the disclosure makes the United States more secure or less secure.
But, he added, "If you're going to be disclosing code word material to the Russians, there is no way on God's green Earth that you can say that that makes us safer, because it doesn't."
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Laura Ingraham told Fox News her sources said the Post did not speak with the three U.S. principals in the room — McMaster, Tillerson, and Powell — before running the story.
Tillerson released the following statement: "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. During that exchange the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods, or military operations."
And Powell said, "This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."
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