KETR

White House Says Reports That Trump Revealed Classified Data Are Wrong

May 16, 2017
Originally published on May 16, 2017 7:21 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

What did President Trump tell Russia's foreign minister, and was it classified? Those are some of the questions this morning. Multiple news outlets are reporting that the president revealed sensitive intelligence to both Russia's foreign minister and Russia's ambassador when they visited the Oval Office last week. Sources quoted by the paper said Trump divulged information about ISIS that was provided by a U.S. ally. The president himself has been tweeting about that this morning.

Quote, Trump said, "as president, I wanted to share with Russia, which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety. Plus, I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS and terrorism," end quote. Last night at the White House, this was what national security adviser H.R. McMaster had to say.

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H R MCMASTER: The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.

GREENE: OK, let's bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So the president is saying in these tweets he had the absolute right to share information with these Russian officials. But is he saying that it was classified or not? Is he admitting to anything here?

LIASSON: Well, that's not clear. But it does seem he's doing something very similar to what he did last week in the firing of James Comey episode. He seems to have just undercut his top aides because it sounded like he was confirming the story that the national security adviser, the clip you just played, said was false. He - although he called the information facts, not classified information. This raises a lot of questions. Was Donald Trump unhappy with his portrayal in The Post story as passing this information to the Russians inadvertently in a bragging way so now he's reframing the story as I did it on purpose?

He's trying to backfill an explanation for this. He also tweeted about leakers being the real problem here. Does that mean he's confirming that he did leak classified information? Does he think the Russians are our friends and should have this information? After all, the intelligence community has called them a major threat to the United States and said that they're actually helping ISIS in Syria. So this is very unclear. And it raises a lot of questions going forward. What ally would share information and intelligence with the U.S. if the president is so careless with it?

GREENE: Although we should say, couldn't you argue that what McMaster said and what the president said might not be that far apart? I mean, McMaster's saying that at no time did the president reveal intelligence sources or methods. The president's saying he has an absolute right to share information. And doesn't the president have the right to declassify anything he wants to?

LIASSON: Well, those are separate questions. Yes, he has the right to declassify anything. This goes under the heading of lawful but awful. As soon as the president says something, he declassifies it. And, yes, McMaster was very careful. He never denied that the president revealed highly sensitive, classified information. And today in his tweets, the president merely talked about facts, not classified information. But still, the impression is he's confirming a story that McMaster said was false.

GREENE: And this is a story that has certainly caught the attention of members of Congress. I mean, you're beginning to hear from some pretty prominent Republicans in the Senate who seem really concerned.

LIASSON: Oh, absolutely. Bob Corker, who's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was very harsh. He said the White House was in a downward spiral. They have to come to grips with this. Look, the president has been chipping away at his goodwill and credibility with Republicans on Capitol Hill for months. He'd fired Comey for investigating his campaign's ties to Russia. Then he shifted his explanations on that. He has slowly but surely kind of gotten rid of whatever reservoir of goodwill there is.

And now he's going to need it, especially as the investigations go forward. And he's about to go on a major foreign trip where he meets with our allies in the Middle East and Europe.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.