On Monday evening, The Washington Post published a blockbuster allegation: that President Trump personally revealed classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during their highly-publicized, behind-closed-doors meeting the day after Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
The Washington Post reported:
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said. The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
The source was anonymous, of course. The portion of the information that was particularly sensitive was the location of an ISIS plot; the plot supposedly had to do with exploding laptops on airplanes.
The White House immediately responded by sending out National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to give a 60-second statement. The statement denied that The Washington Post report occurred as reported; McMaster stated, “The story that came out tonight is false. I was in the room. It didn’t happen.” McMaster got more specific, however, stating that “at no time, at no time, were intelligence methods or sources discussed.” That language left some wiggle room, however — nobody had alleged that intelligence methods or sources were discussed, just the location of the plot. This was exactly the same thing McMaster said to the Post originally:
The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.
If the story is true, it’s a disaster for the Trump administration. If it’s false, it’s a disaster for the media.
It’s a disaster for the Trump administration because there is already a serious crisis of trust with regard to Trump personally: can he handle the rigors of being president of the United States without compromising national security? During the campaign, Hillary Clinton — the woman who put classified information on an unprotected private server — criticized Trump for not being trustworthy on secrets. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), then the Senate Minority Leader, stated, “I would suggest to the intelligence agencies: If you’re forced to brief this guy, don’t tell him anything, just fake it, because this man is dangerous. Fake it, pretend you’re doing a briefing, but you can’t give the guy any information.”
Furthermore, the Trump administration was reportedly duped during the Russian meeting once already: supposedly, they allowed in the Russian press agency, which was posing as an official government source, while banning American press.
This report needs more forceful refutation, to put it simply, if Trump wants to retain credibility beyond his base. With that said, Democrats have repeatedly leaked classified information to the public for political purposes, whether to scuttle a prospective Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities or whether Vice President Joe Biden merely jabbered about Seal Team Six taking out Osama Bin Laden. Democrats are surely politicizing this issue, but Trump is the president, and the buck stops with him — particularly when he has a meeting with the Russian government, about whom so many people have deep and justified suspicion. It’s not enough to send out McMaster to speak in broad terms about The Washington Post’s story. Trump needs to deny it personally, and McMaster needs to deny every element of the story.