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President Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office last week
Russian Foreign Ministry via AP
Officials Say Trump Shared Classified Information With Russians
The president allegedly gave highly classified details about an Islamic State terrorist plot to Russian officials

By Patricia Smith

President Donald Trump revealed highly classified (or secret) information during a recent meeting with the Russian foreign minister, a current and a former American government official said Monday. The officials allege that Trump—when discussing a new Islamic State plot—provided details to the Russians that could expose both the source of the information and how it was collected.

Trump shared details about the plot in an Oval Office meeting last week with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, the American officials said.

A Middle Eastern ally had provided information about the terrorist plot to the United States. It was considered so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the U.S. government or pass it on to other allies.

The White House strongly denies the allegation.

“I was in the room—it didn’t happen,” says Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. “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,” General McMaster adds. McMaster says his account and those of others who were at the meeting should outweigh those of unnamed officials who have said the president jeopardized national security.

Not Illegal, but Problematic

Trump’s alleged disclosure does not appear to have been illegal. That’s because the president has the power to declassify—or make no longer a secret—almost anything. But sharing the information without the clear permission of the ally who provided it puts a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship at risk.

In fact, the ally has repeatedly warned U.S. officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, the former official says. In this case, the fear is that Russia will be able to determine exactly how the information was collected and could disrupt the ally’s information-gathering efforts.

This latest controversy comes just a week after Trump fired Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) Director James Comey. Comey had been leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether any Trump campaign officials helped the Russians in any way.

Shock on Both Sides of the Aisle

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers reacted to news of the alleged information breach with shock. “If true, this is a slap in the face to the [intelligence] community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians,” tweeted Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters he was deeply concerned.

“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do,” he said. “That’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close . . . to prevent that from happening.”

It’s not clear whether President Trump knowingly disclosed the classified information. He—and possibly other Americans in the room—may not have been aware of the sensitivity of what he was sharing. According to the former official, it was only after the meeting, when notes on the discussion were circulated, that information about the terrorist plot was flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials.

With reporting by Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times.