National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defended President Trump’s decision to share intelligence with Russian officials, saying that it was “wholly appropriate” for him to do so, and that the president could not have revealed the source of the intelligence because he didn’t know it himself.
“The president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from,” McMaster told reporters during a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. “He wasn’t even briefed on the sources or method of this information, either.”
McMaster would not say whether Trump divulged highly classified information in his meeting in the Oval Office last week, as the Washington Post reported Monday evening.
“What I will tell you is that in the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate,” McMaster said, “and is consistent with the routine sharing of information with the president and any leaders with whom he is engaged.”
“It’s wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people,” he continued. “That’s what he did.”
In response to a question about whether the president’s comments had been planned or discussed with his advisers in advance, McMaster said the president made the decision to disclose the information “within the context of the conversation.”
The Post reported that Trump referenced the name of an ISIS-controlled city to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. McMaster dismissed the idea that this could have compromised the source of the information.
“All of you are very familiar with the threat from ISIS,” McMaster said. “All of you are very familiar with the territory it controls. If you were to say, ‘Hey, where do you think a threat might come from territory ISIS controls?’ you would probably be able to name a few cities, I would think. And so it was nothing you would not know from open-source reporting.”
McMaster said he is not concerned that Trump’s decision to casually reveal information, reportedly gleaned from a foreign source, might dissuade other U.S. intelligence partners from sharing information in the future.
“No I’m not concerned at all,” he said. “That conversation was wholly appropriate to the conversation, and wholly appropriate for the expectations of our intelligence partners.”
Asked why members of the National Security Council reportedly felt compelled to reach out to the CIA and NSA after the meeting to give them a heads-up about what Trump revealed to the Russians, McMaster said it could’ve been “out of an abundance of caution” but wasn’t entirely sure. However, McMaster did confirm that Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, reached out to both intelligence agencies after Friday’s Oval Office meeting.
McMaster also repeated the White House line that the real danger to national security came from media reports about the meeting.
“Our national security has been put at risk by those violating confidentiality and those releasing information to the press,” McMaster said.
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