After an evening of absolute confusion surrounding a Washington Post story alleging that President Trump spilled highly classified details surrounding an ISIS plot to Russia, thereby endangering intelligence sources, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster stepped to the podium to attempt to quell the controversy.
Last night, McMaster suggested that the Washington Post story was “false,” and said that Trump had not revealed any intelligence sources or methods — neither of which was alleged by the Washington Post. But McMaster was careful not to deny that Trump had revealed classified information to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
On Tuesday morning, McMaster clarified his story. Now, McMaster said, he was simply saying that Trump didn’t reveal any information that created danger in any way. “I stand by my statement that I made yesterday,” McMaster said. “What I’m saying is that the premise of that article is false, that the president had any kind of conversation that was inappropriate or that there was a lapse in national security at all.” He then said Trump “wasn’t briefed on the source of the information… The president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from.”
This a different argument than the one made by the White House on Monday night: instead of denying that Trump had revealed classified information, now the argument is that it just wasn’t inappropriate or important. This new defense raises several more questions and issues, unfortunately:
- If Trump didn’t say anything inappropriate, why not just declassify the transcript of the conversation with the Russians?
- If Trump isn’t aware something is classified, isn’t that slightly more problematic than if he purposefully dropped classified information he found unimportant?
- If the information was unimportant this time, that still does not answer the broader question as to whether Trump knew it was unimportant, or whether Trump will drop more important information in the future.
- If nothing bad happened, why did the Homeland Security Advisor reportedly contact the CIA and NSA to clean up after Trump?
- Why didn’t McMaster just say this last night, rather than give a vaguely-worded statement, then waiting for Trump to tweet something and following up on it?
The media may be out over its skis on the information Trump gave the Russians — perhaps it was entirely innocuous. But it’s difficult to tell when the story keeps changing, and when we don’t know what the information was.