Donald Trump's disclosures of classified information

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President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov in the Oval Office, May 10, 2017
President Trump meets with Lavrov (pictured) and Kislyak on May 10, 2017. A photographer from Russian News Agency TASS was present, but no other press.[1]

President Donald Trump discussed highly classified intelligence during a May 10, 2017, Oval Office meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, providing sufficient details that could be used by the Russians to deduce the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, according to current and former government officials.[2][3][4][5][6] The disclosure was first reported in The Washington Post on May 15, 2017. White House staff initially denied the report, but the following day Trump defended the disclosure, stating that he has the "absolute right" to "share" intelligence with Russia.[7]

It was later reported that Israel was the source of the intelligence.[8] Israel did not confirm or deny the report but released a statement stating full confidence in the intelligence sharing relationships with the United States.[9] Ynetnews, an Israeli online news site, reported on January 12 that U.S. intelligence advised Israeli intelligence officers to be cautious about sharing information with the incoming Trump administration, until the possibility of Russian influence over Trump, suggested by Christopher Steele's report (commonly referred as the Donald Trump–Russia dossier), has been fully investigated.[10] U.S. officials were concerned that the information could be passed to Russia, and then from Russia to Iran.[11] Several Israeli intelligence officials confirmed privately that Trump's disclosure of the intel to Russia "confirmed their worst fears" about Trump, that the disclosure jeopardizes Israel's "unique" intelligence-sharing arrangement with United States and that Israeli officials were "boiling mad".[12][11]

The report was described as "shocking" and "horrifying" by some commentators and officials.[13] According to current and former U.S. officials interviewed by ABC News, Trump's disclosure endangered the life of a spy placed by Israel in ISIL-held territory in Syria.[14] The classified information Trump shared came from a source described as the most valuable of any current sources on any current external plotting, according to The Wall Street Journal.[15]

There have been other instances of Trump disclosing classified information or other sensitive information not meant for public disclosure, including telling the president of the Philippines about the location of U.S. nuclear submarines.

Disclosures and reporting

On May 15, 2017, The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the intelligence was about an Islamic State plot to stealthily use laptops as weapons that can then explode in Western countries, and that a Middle Eastern ally provided the intelligence, which was codeword-classified, meaning that its distribution was restricted only to those who were explicitly cleared to read it, and was not intended to be shared beyond the United States and certain allies.[2][3] The incident was later reported by The New York Times,[2] Buzzfeed,[16] and Reuters.[4] The officials talking to BuzzFeed said, "it's far worse than what has already been reported."[16]

Immediately after Trump's disclosure, "which one of the officials described as spontaneous",[4] "senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout."[3] Immediately after the meeting,[4] Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, telephoned the directors of the CIA and the NSA to inform them what had occurred.[3]

The incident was widely seen as a pivot away from traditional American allies, and towards closer relations with Russia,[17][18] and raised questions on whether the United States would remain in Five Eyes (an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) and its relationship to the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[19]

Several commentators stated that by releasing highly classified information to Russia, Trump jeopardized American and allied intelligence sources, breached the trust relationship with America's foreign partners, threatened the long term national security of the country and violated his oath of office through "gross negligence". All of these actions are possible legal grounds towards efforts to impeach Donald Trump.[20][21][22] Aides privately defended the President, stating that Trump did not have sufficient interest or knowledge of the intelligence gathering process to leak specific sources or methods of intelligence gathering; National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster publicly maintained that Trump had not been briefed on the origins of the intelligence in question, and therefore could not have compromised the source.[23]

According to conservative commentator Erick Erickson, multiple sources have stated that the leaks were far worse than the current reports, and the leaker is a strong supporter of President Trump who believed it was necessary to publicly disclose the story because of Trump's inability to accept criticism.[24]

White House response

White House staff initially denied the veracity of the report during the evening of May 15. In a press briefing on the same day, McMaster strongly denied The Washington Post report, saying, "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. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. And their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources." He concluded by saying, "I was in the room, it didn't happen."[25] McMaster said that "it was wholly appropriate to share" the information because of a similar ISIL plot two years earlier.[14]

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that "common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism" were discussed in the meeting with Lavrov, but not "sources, methods or military operations".[26] Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Habib Powell flatly rejected the Post article, saying: "This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."[27]

On May 16, Trump implicitly confirmed a disclosure in a tweet, claiming that, "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 ... to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."[7][28]

Origin of the intelligence

The May 15 The Washington Post report[3] only reported that the intelligence came from an unnamed Middle Eastern ally.[2] On May 16, The New York Times named the relevant ally and source of the intelligence as Israel, saying that as a consequence, Trump's boasts to the Russian envoys could damage America's relationship with Israel and endanger Israel's security if Russia passes the intelligence on to Russia's ally, and Israel's main threat in the Middle East, namely Iran.[8] The intelligence was so sensitive that it hadn't even been shared among key U.S. allies.[29]

Israeli intelligence officials were reportedly horrified by the disclosure.[30] In public comments, Israeli officials including intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the intelligence services of the two countries would continue to share information, with Dermer saying "Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States." However, speaking privately, unnamed Israeli sources said they might need to reassess what intelligence they share with the U.S.[31][32] Israeli officials stated that it is Israel's "worst fears confirmed" about Donald Trump. The officials also stated that Israeli intelligence officers were "boiling mad and demanding answers" on its current intelligence-sharing agreement with the US.[33]

On May 22, while visiting Israel, Trump appeared to confirm both the disclosures and the identity of Israel as the source, telling the press "Folks, folks, just so you understand, just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel during that conversation."[34] It had been widely reported before May 22 that Israel was the source.[35][36]

United States Congress reaction

U.S. House

Speaker of the House Republican Paul Ryan said through a spokesman that he "hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration".[2]

U.S. Senate

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the allegations were "very, very troubling" if true.[4] Senator John McCain called the report "deeply disturbing" and said that "Reports that this information was provided by a U.S. ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America's allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future."[37] McCain stated: "Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians was time he did not spend focusing on Russia's aggressive behavior, including its interference in American and European elections, its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, its other destabilizing activities across Europe, and the slaughter of innocent civilians and targeting of hospitals in Syria."[37]

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer stated "The president owes the intelligence community, the American people and Congress a full explanation"[2] and Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip, said that Trump's conduct was "dangerous" and "reckless".[4] Senator Jack Reed, the ranking Democratic member of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, stated that "President Trump's recklessness with sensitive information is deeply disturbing and clearly problematic."[2] The Democratic National Committee issued a statement reading: "If Trump weren't president, his dangerous disclosure to Russia could end with him in handcuffs."[38]

Foreign reactions

Foreign reaction was overwhelmingly negative. A top European intelligence official stated that sharing of intelligence with the United States would cease if the country confirms that Trump did indeed share classified information with Russia, because sharing intel with Americans while Trump is president could put their sources at risk.[39]

Germany

Burkhard Lischka, a member of the German Bundestag's intelligence oversight committee, said that if Trump "passes this information to other governments at will, then Trump becomes a security risk for the entire western world".[40]

Russia

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denied the U.S. media reports.[41]

Academic reactions

Several professors of law, political science and international relations, as well as intelligence experts, were alarmed by Trump's disclosure.

Intelligence expert Amy Zegart of Stanford University noted that Trump revealed code word intelligence, which is the highest layer of classification, even higher than the "top secret" classification. Such information, if revealed could reasonably be expected to cause "exceptionally grave damage" to the national security of the United States.[42] She wrote, "so just how bad is the damage? On a scale of 1 to 10—and I'm just ball parking here—it's about a billion."[42]

Counterterrorism expert Daniel Byman of Georgetown University said that disclosures such as Trump's could jeopardize intelligence sharing relationships, which "perhaps more than any other policy instrument ... play a vital role in counterterrorism against global terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda."[43] The effects could be "disastrous".[43]

Professor Jack Goldsmith and other contributors to the Lawfare Blog argued that Trump's leaking of classified information could be a violation of the President's oath of office: "There's thus no reason why Congress couldn't consider a grotesque violation of the President's oath as a standalone basis for impeachment—a high crime and misdemeanor in and of itself. This is particularly plausible in a case like this, where the oath violation involves giving sensitive information to an adversary foreign power. That's getting relatively close to the "treason" language in the impeachment clauses; it's pretty easy to imagine a hybrid impeachment article alleging a violation of the oath in service of a hostile foreign power. So legally speaking, the matter could be very grave for Trump even though there is no criminal exposure."[20] While Goldsmith argued Trump "did not violate any criminal law concerning the disclosure of classified information" because of the president's broad authority to declassify information,[20] another legal scholar, Professor Stephen Vladeck, wrote that the president's "constitutional power over national security information" is not unfettered and that Trump's disclosures "may actually have been illegal under federal law."[44]

Harvard Law emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz called the incident "the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president"[45] and said that it was "devastating", with "very serious political, diplomatic, and international implications".[46]

Other disclosures of classified or confidential information

On April 9, 2017, Trump disclosed the approximate location of two nuclear submarines - information which is classified - to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in a phone call.[47]

On September 15, 2017, Trump tweeted about the Parsons Green bombing in the United Kingdom, which led Nick Timothy to comment that "this is so unhelpful from leader of our ally and intelligence partner."[48] UK Prime Minister Theresa May described Trump's comments as "not helpful" and characterized the tweets as inaccurate speculation.[49]

See also

References

  1. ^ Hirschfeld Davis, Julie (May 10, 2017). "Trump Bars U.S. Press, but Not Russia’s, at Meeting With Russian Officials". New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Rosenberg, Matthew; Schmitt, Eric (May 15, 2017). "Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say". The New York Times. p. A1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Miller, Greg; Jaffe, Greg. "Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 15, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Mason, Jeff; Zengerle, Patricia (May 16, 2017). "Trump revealed intelligence secrets to Russians in Oval Office: officials". Reuters. 
  5. ^ Lee, Carol E.; Harris, Shane (May 16, 2017). "Trump Shared Intelligence Secrets With Russians in Oval Office Meeting". The Wall Street Journal. 
  6. ^ Merica, Dan; Jake Tapper; Jim Sciutto (May 16, 2017). "Sources: Trump shared classified info with Russians". CNN. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Montanaro, Domenico; Taylor, Jessica (May 16, 2017). "Trump Says He Has 'Absolute Right' To Share Intelligence With Russia". NPR. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Goldman, Adam; Rosenberg, Matthew; Apuzzo, Matt; Schmitt, Eric (May 16, 2017). "Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Goldman, Adam; Rosenberg, Matthew; Apuzzo, Matt; Schmitt, Eric (May 16, 2017). "Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Ronen Bergman (January 12, 2017). "US intel sources warn Israel against sharing secrets with Trump administration". Ynetnews. 
  11. ^ a b Moore, Jack (May 16, 2017). "U.S. officials 'warned Israel' not to share sensitive intel with Trump administration". Newsweek. 
  12. ^ Hensch, Mark (May 16, 2017). "Israeli intelligence 'boiling mad' over Trump disclosure: report". The Hill. 
  13. ^ Pegues, Jeff (May 16, 2017). "Former officials call Trump's disclosure 'serious'". CBS News. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  14. ^ a b Ross, Brian; Meek, James Gordon; Kreider, Randy (May 16, 2017). "Trump's disclosure endangered spy placed inside ISIS by Israel, officials say". ABC News. 
  15. ^ Harris, Shane (2017-05-18). "Israeli Source Seen as Key to Countering Islamic State Threat". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-05-18. 
  16. ^ a b Dalrymple, Jim, II; Leopold, Jason (May 15, 2017). "Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information To Russians During White House Visit". BuzzFeed. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  17. ^ Savransky, Rebecca (May 16, 2017). "Trump: I have 'absolute right' to share facts with Russia". The Hill. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  18. ^ Baker, Peter; Davis, Julie Hirschfeld (May 16, 2017). "Trump Defends Sharing Information on ISIS Threat With Russia". The New York Times. 
  19. ^ Beauchamp, Zack (May 15, 2017). "Trump gave Russia classified intelligence: what we know so far". Vox. 
  20. ^ a b c Goldsmith, Jack; Hennessey, Susan; Quinta Jurecic; Matthew Kahn; Benjamin Wittes; Elishe Julian Wittes (May 15, 2017). "Bombshell: Initial Thoughts on the Washington Post's Game-Changing Story". Lawfare Blog. 
  21. ^ Bertrand, Natasha (May 16, 2017). "National security experts: Trump's sharing classified info with Russia 'may breach his oath of office'". Business Insider. 
  22. ^ Agerholm, Harriet (May 16, 2017). "National security lawyers say there is now a 'clear legal basis' to impeach Trump". The Independent. 
  23. ^ Thrush, Glenn; Haberman, Maggie (May 16, 2017). "At a Besieged White House, Tempers Flare and Confusion Swirls". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  24. ^ Feldscher, Kyle. "Erick Erickson says at least one source in the Washington Post story is pro-Trump". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  25. ^ "National Security Adviser McMaster denies report on classified info". CBS News. May 15, 2017. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  26. ^ "Tillerson: Trump did not discuss 'sources, methods' in meeting with Russia's Lavrov". Reuters. May 15, 2017. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  27. ^ "Trump disclosed secrets to Russia: Washington Post". Al Jazeera. May 15, 2017. 
  28. ^ Barney Henderson (May 16, 2017). "Donald Trump defends 'absolute right' to share information with Russia, amid row over classified intelligence". The Telegraph. 
  29. ^ Harris, Shane; Lee, Carol E. (May 16, 2017). "Israel Provided Intelligence Trump Shared With Russia, Officials Say". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  30. ^ "'Horrified' Israeli intel officials 'were shouting at US counterparts' over Trump leak". The Times of Israel. May 20, 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2017. 
  31. ^ Beaumont, Peter (May 17, 2017). "Netanyahu and Trump speak on phone amid growing row over Russia leak". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2017. 
  32. ^ Bob, Yonan (13 June 2017). "Report: Israeli intel from ISIS hack was allegedly leaked by US to Russia". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 13 June 2017. 
  33. ^ Frenkel, Sheera; Youssef, Nancy (May 16, 2016). "Israeli Official: Trump Sharing Intelligence With Russia Is 'Worst Fears Confirmed'". BuzzFeed. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  34. ^ Vitali, Ali (May 17, 2017). "Trump: I Never Said 'Israel' in Meeting With Russians". NBC News. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  35. ^ "Israel says ties with US unaffected after Trump-Lavrov accusations". BBC News. May 17, 2017 – via www.bbc.com. 
  36. ^ Goldman, Adam; Schmitt, Eric; Baker, Peter. "Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians". The New York Times. 
  37. ^ a b Wright, Austin (May 16, 2017). "McCain: Trump's actions 'deeply disturbing'". Politico. 
  38. ^ Siddique, Haroon (May 16, 2017). "All you need to know about Trump, Russia and classified information". The Guardian. 
  39. ^ "European official to AP: Country might stop sharing intel with U.S.". Associated Press. May 16, 2017. 
  40. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (May 17, 2017). "German intelligence committee head calls Donald Trump 'a security risk to the Western world'". The Independent. 
  41. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (2017-05-16). "Russian foreign ministry says reports Donald Trump leaked classified intel in White House meeting are 'fake news'". The Independent. Retrieved 2017-07-13. 
  42. ^ a b Zegart, Amy (May 15, 2017). "How Bad Is Disclosing 'Code Word' Information?". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  43. ^ a b Byman, Daniel (May 16, 2017). "Intelligence Liaison and Counterterrorism: A Quick Primer". Lawfare Blog. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  44. ^ Vladeck, Steve (May 16, 2017). "Trump's disclosures to the Russians might actually have been illegal". The Washington Post. 
  45. ^ Squitieri, Jason; Mahtani, Melissa (May 15, 2017). "Dershowitz: Most serious charge ever against a sitting US president". CNN. 
  46. ^ Did Donald Trump Break The Law By Revealing Classified Info To Russia?. MSNBC. 2017-05-15. Retrieved 2017-05-16 – via YouTube. 
  47. ^ "In leaked Rodrigo Duterte call, Donald Trump reveals more classified information". The Age. The Washington Post and Fairfax Media. May 25, 2017. 
  48. ^ 'Explosion' incident on London Tube at Parsons Green
  49. ^ "Parsons Green: Trump terror tweets 'not helpful', says May". News. BBC. 15 September 2017. Retrieved 17 September 2017. 
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