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President Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
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President Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office last week

CREDIT: 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 in the Oval Office.

If true, it’s a shocking revelation: According to a current and a former government official, President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting last week with the Russian foreign minister. The allegation is that the president, when discussing an Islamic State plot, provided details that could expose both the source of the information about the plot and how that information was collected.

The alleged disclosure took place in an Oval Office meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, the officials said. A Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information, which was considered so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the United States government or pass it on to other allies.

The White House strongly denied the allegation.

“I was in the room—it didn’t happen,” said Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President 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 added.

He said 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.

Trump’s alleged disclosure does not appear to have been illegal. That’s because the president has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the clear permission of the ally who provided it was a major breach of espionage etiquette and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship.

In fact, the ally has repeatedly warned American officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, the former official said. 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 espionage efforts.

This latest controversy comes on the heels of President Trump having last week fired F.B.I. Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether any Trump campaign officials colluded in any way with that effort.

 Lawmakers—both Democratic and Republican—reacted with shock.

“If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians,” tweeted Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and the 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, as to prevent that from happening.”

Referring to the Trump administration, Corker added, “Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”

It’s not clear whether President Trump knowingly disclosed such highly 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 among National Security Council officials, that it 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.

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