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White House insists Trump’s disclosures are appropriate

Vivian Salama and Deb Riechman
Associated Press

Washington — The White House continued Tuesday to defend President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials as “wholly appropriate,” as Trump tried to beat back criticism from fellow Republicans and calm international allies increasingly wary about sharing their secrets with the new president.

The highly classified information about an Islamic State plot was collected by Israel, a crucial source of intelligence and close partner in the fight against some of the America’s fiercest threats in the Middle East. Trump’s disclosure of the information threatened to fray that partnership and piled pressure on the White House to explain the apparently on-the-spot decision to reveal the information to Russian diplomats in a meeting last week.

In a series of morning tweets, Trump declared he has “an absolute right” as president to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia. Although top aides on Monday had declared reports about Trump’s discussions false, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday sought instead to downplay the significance of the information Trump revealed. The president had been engaging in “routine sharing” with foreign leaders, he said, arguing that some of the information was publicly available.

Still, the revelations sent a White House accustomed to chaos reeling anew. It is extraordinary for a president to share such information without consent of the country that collected it, apparently violating the confidentiality of an intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel. It was, perhaps, even more remarkable that Trump chose to confide in representatives of an adversary, who could use the information to find its source.

A U.S. official who confirmed the disclosure to the Associated Press said the revelation potentially put the source at risk.

The U.S. official told AP that Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The official said the disclosure came as Trump boasted about his access to classified intelligence. An excerpt from an official transcript of the meeting reveals that Trump told them, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

The extraordinary leak of Trump’s private conversations in the Oval Office appeared to be a direct consequence of the president’s combative relationship with the U.S. spy agencies. The White House vowed to track down those who disclosed the information.

The president’s action drew rare criticism from some Republicans, who are desperate to get the White House refocused on health care and tax changes. Coming days before Trump’s first trip abroad, it also raised questions about his standing with world leaders and led some countries to start second-guessing their own intelligence-sharing agreements with the U.S.