Donald Trump faced a bipartisan outcry on Monday after reports that the US president had endangered national security by sharing highly-classified information in an Oval Office meeting with Russia’s top diplomat.
Mr Trump revealed details of an Isis plot, breaching the trust of an unnamed ally’s intelligence agency that gathered the information, in a meeting last week with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and Sergei Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador, the Washington Post reported.
The details Mr Trump revealed — including the plot’s intention to use laptops to attack aeroplanes and the city in which it had been uncovered — were so sensitive they had been withheld from some US allies and tightly restricted within the US government, the Post reported.
Other news outlets published similar stories corroborating the report on Monday evening, even as the White House scrambled to deny that any intelligence sources, methods or operations had been revealed.
The allegations are likely to dismay an already embattled US intelligence community and risk further exposing the work of a key counterterrorism ally, deterring others from confiding information in the US.
If true, this is a slap in the face to the [intelligence] community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians
“If true, this is a slap in the face to the [intelligence] community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians,” tweeted Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.
Some influential Republicans joined a chorus of criticism from Democrats. John McCain, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, said the reports were “deeply disturbing” if true. Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said the Trump administration was “in a downward spiral right now” and that the White House “has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and order”.
The reports coincide with Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional investigations into alleged links between Trump campaign members and Russia in last year’s election, and a week after the president sacked James Comey, the FBI director who was investigating the claims.
Mr Trump’s most trusted senior officials, including secretary of state Rex Tillerson and his national security adviser HR McMaster, denied that any sources or intelligence methods had been exposed, but they failed to comment on the details of the report itself.
“The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” Mr McMaster told reporters after the story broke. “I was in the room; it didn’t happen.” He confirmed the president had discussed “threats to aviation” but refused to take any questions.
Mr Tillerson acknowledged Mr Trump had discussed “common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism” and “the nature of specific threats” when he met the Russian officials last Wednesday.
The US has close and formal intelligence ties with the other four members of what’s known as the “Five Eyes” alliance — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK — but also regularly shares intelligence and close military relations with allies including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Turkey.
Mr Trump called Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday and also met the Emirati crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. He discussed counter-terrorism with both men.
Mr Trump is due to fly to Saudi Arabia on Friday to meet Gulf leaders and form a coalition against terrorism. His administration has been weighing whether to expand a ban on laptops on board some airlines to include all European flights to the US.
Thomas Wright at Brookings said Mr Trump should cancel or shorten his forthcoming first foreign trip to the Middle East. “It confirms all the fears about how he might handle a situation like this, whether it’s from a ‘Five Eyes’ partner or US intelligence ally. It demonstrates he can’t be trusted.”
Additional reporting by Sam Jones in London and Sam Fleming and Barney Jopson in Washington
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