Trump Disclosed Highly Classified Information To Russian Officials

May 15, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When President Trump met with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador at the White House last week, he shared highly classified information with them, information that the U.S. does not even share with many of its closest allies. This is according to a breaking story from The Washington Post. Greg Miller is one of the Post reporters on this, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

GREG MILLER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: You've spoken to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of what happened during this White House meeting. What have they told you about how this disclosure happened?

MILLER: They describe it as unfolding sort of when Trump is meeting with the foreign minister and ambassador and starts to go off script and starts to talk - brag about or boast about the intel he gets. We quote him in the story saying, I get the best intel, I get great intelligence, and then proceeds to talk about this threat stream that we've all heard about, this concern that the Islamic State is preparing or attempting to use a laptop bomb on an aircraft.

And he goes into details about that plot and the - how the Islamic State is pursuing it and what the U.S. is doing to try to suppress it. And this is all - the important thing here is this is all intelligence that comes through an important U.S. ally. An intelligence partner provided this information.

SHAPIRO: You write that it might not even have been U.S. information to disclose.

MILLER: Right, right. So...

SHAPIRO: You've withheld some of the details that Trump did disclose. Explain why this presents a threat to American intelligence and possibly security.

MILLER: Well, the problem is that these are partnerships that are really critical. So one of the fundamental rules of espionage is that the collector, the agency or the country that collects it, controls its dissemination, right? So this is not intelligence that the United States gathered or owned. It wasn't up to United States to share.

And so doing so really jeopardizes that relationship. It potentially damages trust that's critical in these kinds of arrangements. And I think that's one of the really big worries here. And in this case, it's important because this is apparently an ongoing stream of intelligence into Islamic State plotting. I mean, what could be more important?

SHAPIRO: You report that after the meeting with these two Russians, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage. Explain what that means and whether it was effective.

MILLER: So what happened was the senior officials in the NSC realized that there had been an overstep here by Trump, that he'd gone too far.

SHAPIRO: The NSC, the National Security Council, yeah. Go on.

MILLER: That's right. And they try to reach - they call and make attempts to call the CIA director and the director of the NSA to basically give them a heads up that this had happened because those agencies are probably the most front-line, most engaged directly with this particular partner, this intelligence partner whose information Trump had exposed.

SHAPIRO: Whose identity you are protecting...

MILLER: That's right.

SHAPIRO: ...And choosing not to report.

MILLER: That's right.

SHAPIRO: Finally, you write that if almost anyone else in the government had disclosed this kind of information to senior Russian officials it would have been a violation of law, but perhaps not the president. Briefly explain why.

MILLER: Because the president has extraordinary authority when it comes to classification issues. He is the ultimate classification authority and can - he can declassify almost anything he likes without consequence. So that's why legal experts I talked to said there really is probably no legal jeopardy here for Trump as much as, you know, what he did poses lots of security issues and problems.

SHAPIRO: That was Greg Miller of The Washington Post on his story that the president disclosed highly classified information to senior Russian officials. After I spoke with Miller earlier this evening, the White House national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, spoke to reporters about this story on the White House driveway.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

H R MCMASTER: The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.

SHAPIRO: And NPR will continue to cover this story throughout the evening as it unfolds. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.