FACING heavy criticism over his handling of highly classified information, U.S. President Donald Trump defended having shared ‘facts’ with senior Russian officials, saying on Tuesday he had an ‘absolute right’ to do so and was trying to get Moscow to be more active in combating Islamic State militants.
The president took to Twitter on Tuesday to defend his actions against the criticism, including from some of his fellow Republicans, after news reports emerged on Monday of Trump’s conversations about a planned Islamic State operation.
Two U.S. officials said Trump shared intelligence, supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last week.
The disclosures disgruntled the administration as it struggled to move past the backlash over Trump’s abrupt firing on May 9 of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
‘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,’ Trump tweeted.
‘Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.’
A U.S. president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, but U.S. and allied officials told Reuters that Trump had endangered cooperation from an ally that has some intelligence on Islamic State.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump did not know the source of the information he revealed to Kislyak and Lavrov, the public face of Russian foreign policies that are often at odds with U.S. aims.
‘The president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source and method of the information either,’ McMaster told reporters on Tuesday. ‘What the president shared was wholly appropriate,’ he said.
Trump has frequently said he wants to improve U.S. relations with Moscow, damaged by years of disagreement over Russia’s role in Ukraine and its backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The president’s tweets compounded controversy over his meeting with the Russians, even after members of his senior staff played down the importance of the information he gave to Russia.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and McMaster denied on Monday night that Trump had revealed intelligence sources and methods or military operations at the Russia meeting.