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Trump Says He Has ‘Absolute Right’ to Share Facts With Russians

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to disclose information to Russian officials during a White House meeting last week, saying he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

The president took to Twitter to counter a torrent of criticism after reports that he had revealed highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation.

Two U.S. officials said Trump shared the intelligence, supplied by an ally of the United States in the fight against the militant group, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a meeting last Wednesday.

“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 said on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS terrorism.”

In a later tweet, Trump took aim at “LEAKERS in the intelligence community,” a frequent target of his months-old administration.

Defending Trump

Trump weighed in personally the morning after his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, issued statements saying no sources, methods or military operations were discussed at the Russian meeting.

McMaster said the story, initially reported by The Washington Post, was false.

The Kremlin also came to Trump’s defense on Tuesday, calling reports that he had disclosed classified material “complete nonsense.”

The U.S. officials told Reuters that while the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement.

U.S. allies including Australia, New Zealand and Japan cited the White House denials and said intelligence sharing would continue.

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The reports came days before Trump departs on Friday for his first overseas trip as president, to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium.

The two top Republicans in Congress, which is controlled by the party, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were muted in their response. Ryan’s office said he hoped for a full explanation, while McConnell told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday he wished for a little less drama from the White House.

 

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