Senior US official on Trump’s information to Moscow’s high-level officials “Russia could identify our sources or techniques”
UPDATE 1103 GMT: Donald Trump has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing in the revelation of classified information, while undoing the White House denial that he passed information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak:
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
…to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
Developments on Day 116 of the Trump Administration:
Trump Revealed Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, in a White House meeting last Wednesday, according to multiple current and former US officials.
Trump told the Russians of an operation monitoring the Islamic State, likely in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria. The President did not disclose the source of the information, but its revelation could both allow the Russians to track the operation and also notify ISIS of the infiltration.
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak, according to “an official with knowledge of the exchange”.
Trump described how the Islamic State was pursuing a plot, pointing to an operation involving a laptop taking on board an aircraft, and the damage that the attack could cause. He revealed the city in ISIS territory where a US intelligence partner detected the threat.
The information had been provided by “a Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets” through a top-secret intelligence-sharing arrangement. The link is so sensitive that details of the information have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US Government, the officials said.
The identification of the ISIS-held city of Raqqa is especially problematic, officials said, because Russia can identify the US ally or intelligence capability involved. They explained that the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s military presence and operations in Syria.
A former official said “the Middle Eastern ally” — now known to be Israel — has repeatedly warned American officials that it will cut off access to such sensitive information if it is shared too widely.
Trump appeared unaware of what he had done. It was only after the White House meeting, as notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council staff, that the information was flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even between many US officials.
After Trump’s meeting, his assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, Thomas Bossert, took steps to contain the damage with calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic intelligence. Bossert’s staff called for the sensitive portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memoranda and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients.
“This is code-word information,” said a “US official familiar with the matter”. He asserted that Trump “revealed more information to the Russian Ambassador than we have shared with our own allies”.
Before the publication of the initial article, by The Washington Post, the impending publication led to the summoning of White press secretary Sean Spicer; deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders; and communications director Mike Dubke to the Oval Office.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster tried to dismiss the story:
The President and the Foreign Minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.
However, The Washington Post — described by McMaster as “false” — never said that Trump had revealed sources or methods. McMaster did not take questions to address whether his statement left open the possibility of Trump’s conveyance of top-secret information to the Russians.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson also denied that sources or methods were discussed, but did say that Trump talked about “the nature of specific threats”.
The CIA declined to comment, and the National Security Agency, which handles electronic intelligence operations, did not respond to enquiries.
Trunp’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak came a day after the President fired FBI Director James Comey in the midst of the bureau’s expanding investigation of links between Trump associates and Russian officials during and after Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election.
Kislyak is one of the Russians being investigated by the FBI. His five phone calls on December 29 with Michael Flynn, a member of Trump transition team who later became National Security Advisor, eventually led to Flynn’s resignation. The two men discussed sanctions on Moscow that had been strengthened by President Obama that day, because of the Russian influence operations in the election.
Democrat and, more importantly, Republican lawmakers expressed concern and called for immediate rectification of Trump’s disclosures.
“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” Bob Corker, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “It’s got to happen.”
Doug Andres, a spokesman for Paul Ryan, said the GOP Speaker of the House “hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration”.
Donald Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak in the White House, May 10, 2017
Administration to Expand Denial of Aid to Family Planning Organizations Around World
The Trump administration says it will vastly expand the withholding of American aid from health organizations worldwide that provide or even discuss abortion in family planning.
The new policy affects about $8.8 billion in global health funding, compared to about $600 million during the George W. Bush Administration. It could disrupt hundreds of clinics in Africa and around the world that fight AIDS and malaria.
It affects about $8.8 billion in global health funding, up from about $600 million during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The State Department rules require any foreign NGO seeking US support for any of its health activities — from AIDS treatment to malaria prevention to safe childbirth practices — to promise not to “promote abortion as a method of family planning”.
The rules follow Donald Trump’s executive order in January reinstating a freeze on funding to NGOs if they offer abortion counseling or advocate the right to seek abortion. In April, the administration also froze funding to the United Nations agency that promotes family planning efforts.