President Donald Trump has plunged his administration into further crisis by disclosing “highly classified” information to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador, The Washington Post reports.
During a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Mr Trump disclosed information provided by a US partner via a highly sensitive intelligence-sharing arrangement, according to the Post’s sources, cited as current and former US officials.
The information the President shared was “considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government”, the unnamed officials said.
If correct, the disclosure would potentially jeopardise a key source of intelligence on Islamic State, and also raises questions over whether an official in the room at the time is trying to undermine the President.
While the disclosure is not illegal, the partner had not given Washington permission to share the material with Moscow. Mr Trump’s decision to do so risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State militant group, the newspaper reported.
During his Oval Office meeting with Mr Lavrov and Mr Kislyak, Mr Trump went off-script and began describing details about an Islamic State threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft, the officials told the Post.
While discussing classified matters with an foreign country would be illegal for most people, the President has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that Mr Trump’s disclosures broke the law, the Post said.
Asked about the disclosures, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, H R McMaster, who participated in the meeting, said no intelligence sources or methods were discussed that were not already known publicly, the Post reported.
“The President and the foreign minister reviewed common threats to aviation,” Mr McMaster told reporters outside the White House.
“I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”
But Mr Trump’s own party was less than impressed, with Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker told media that this and the wave of stories related to Mr Trump and intelligence signalled “chaos” in, and the “downward spiral” of, the White House
“They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Senator Corker told reporters.
“You know the shame of it is there’s a really good national security team in place, there’s good productive things that are underway through them, and through others.
“But the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think — it creates a worrisome environment.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN: “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
Republican Senator Susan Collins rhetorically asked reporters. “Can we have a crisis-free day? That’s all I’m asking.”
Mr Trump’s meeting with the Russian delegation at the White House came a day after he fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the agency’s investigation into possible links between the Trump presidential campaign and Moscow.
US agencies are reportedly in the process of drawing up plans to expand a ban on passengers carrying laptop computers onto US-bound flights from several countries in conflict zones due to new intelligence about how militant groups are refining techniques for installing bombs in laptops.
So serious are assessments of the increased threat that Washington is considering banning passengers from several European countries, including Britain, from carrying laptops in a cabin on US-bound flights.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also indicated on Tuesday that Australia may follow the lead of the US and ban passengers from bringing laptop computers into the cabin on certain international flights.
– with AAP