The White House has reacted angrily to a report that US President Donald Trump was explicitly warned to refrain from congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election, but he did so anyway.
Aides included a section in Mr Trump’s briefing materials for the Tuesday morning call stating: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”, a senior administration official told the Associated Press.
The White House said in a statement it is a “fireable offence and likely illegal” to leak Mr Trump’s briefing papers to the press.
The Washington Post reported that national security adviser HR McMaster briefed the President in person before the call to Mr Putin in the White House residence.
The leaked briefing document was accessible to only a select group of aides, two officials told the AP.
They also said there now is an internal probe into the leak, but provided no other details.
Mr Trump has reportedly told confidants that the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him.
The President’s call of congratulations drew him bruising criticism from members of his own party.
“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said Senator John McCain, who has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s alleged interference in the US presidential election.
An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election. https://t.co/lcQTBi7CA1
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 20, 2018
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, called the President’s call “odd”.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Mr Trump’s call and noted that former president Barack Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin’s last electoral victory.
“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Ms Sanders said.
The briefing document with guidance for the Putin phone call is accessible only to a select group of aides, and the White House expressed anger on Wednesday that it was leaked to the media.
“If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the President’s briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offence and likely illegal,” the White House said.