Trump Defends ‘Absolute Right’ to Share Information With Russia

16 May, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump is defending his "absolute right" to share information with Russian officials at a White House meeting last week.

Trump pushed back against media reports that he gave Russia highly classified intelligence related to the Islamic State group.

The president's comments appeared on Twitter Tuesday morning. He described his White House talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Trump wrote that he wanted to give the two men "facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety." He added that he wanted to urge the Russians to "greatly step up their fight" against Islamic State and terrorists.

The Washington Post newspaper said that Trump appeared to be boasting about his knowledge of a possible threat to air travelers.

The New York Times reported that some officials thought the highly classified information was especially sensitive. They believed it had not even been shared widely within the U.S. government or with America's allies.

The two newspapers and others said the information could put at risk an important source of intelligence about Islamic State and the method in which it was collected.

A U.S. president has the power to declassify nearly any information, making it available to others. So what Trump did does not appear to be illegal. But intelligence officials expressed concern that the information could harm relationships with other countries. The newspapers reported their comments.

Trump noted that since becoming president, he has been pressuring the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others in the U.S. government "to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community."

After-the-fact published reports of Trump's interactions with foreign leaders have at times angered him.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017.

U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has denied the accuracy of the news reports on Trump's meeting with the Russian officials. He said that at no time were sources or methods discussed.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed support for McMaster's statements. Neither official denied that classified information was discussed.

Reports about the White House meeting has led to reaction overseas.

On Tuesday, a European intelligence official warned that his country might stop sharing information with U.S. officials if it confirms Trump shared classified details with Russia.

The official told the Associated Press that doing so "could be a risk for our sources." The official spoke only on condition that neither he nor his country be identified because he was not permitted to talk openly about the subject.

David Firestein formerly worked for the U.S. State Department. He told VOA it is too early to judge the classified information without knowing more details.

"I'm not sure that we yet know enough, and that what we know we know authoritatively enough to be able to make any really well informed assessments about the propriety, the damage and so forth and so on. Obviously, if information was shared that shouldn't have been shared, and that damaged sources and methods, and it causes damage to the interests of the United States, then that's enormously problematic. I'm not sure that we know that is what occurred just yet."

I'm Jonathan Evans.

This story was based on reports from VOANews and the Associated Press. George Grow wrote the story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

absolute – adj. completely from restraint; without restrictions

classified – adj. kept secret from all but a few people

pertaining – v. relating to

boasting – v. calling attention to oneself

source – n. starting point; something or someone who provide information

declassify – v. to remove or reduce the security classification

accuracy – n. free from mistakes

authoritatively – adj. clearly knowledgeable

assessment – n. the action of making a judgment about something

obviously – adv. clearly

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