Lawmakers On Both Sides Alarmed By Reports Trump Disclosed Intelligence

May 16, 2017
Originally published on May 16, 2017 11:43 pm
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There was swift reaction on Capitol Hill today to the latest White House crisis. It's about what President Trump told Russia's foreign minister and its ambassador to the U.S. when they met last Wednesday in the Oval Office. Reports broke late last night that Trump allegedly regaled his Russian guests with highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State planning to launch attacks with bombs disguised as laptops. Democrats on Capitol Hill today demanded transcripts of that meeting, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: First came the assertion last night from White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that The Washington Post story about President Trump spilling the beans to the Russians about Islamic State plots was, quote, "false." But then came a tweet from Trump himself this morning saying, quote, "I wanted to share with Russia at an openly scheduled White House meeting which I absolutely have the right to do facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety." On the Senate floor, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer declared that the truth in this administration sits, in his words, atop shifting sands.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: The American people will rightly doubt if their president can handle our nation's most closely kept secrets.

WELNA: Schumer's call for a transcript followed a similar demand from Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.

SUSAN COLLINS: In my statement, I indicated that I thought the intelligence committee should receive a briefing, and that's what I still think should occur.

MARK WARNER: Well, if a transcript exists, appropriately redacted, we'd like to see it.

WELNA: That's Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, which Collins also sits on. In a brief interview, Warner expressed frustration with the conflicting narratives coming from the White House about what was said at the Russia meeting.

WARNER: The national security adviser went out last night and gave one version of facts. It appears again that you could read at least the president's tweets this morning in a different way that acknowledges he did potentially reveal information.

WELNA: At the White House, National Security Adviser McMaster held a news conference and insisted he stood by his charge last night that The Washington Post story about the Russia meeting was false. At the same time, McMaster used the phrase wholly appropriate nine times to say that Trump had shared information with the Russians.

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H R MCMASTER: He shares information in a way that is wholly appropriate, and I should just make maybe the statement here that the president wasn't even aware, you know, of where this information came from. He wasn't briefed on the source or method of the information either.

WELNA: At the Capitol, some Republicans rushed to Trump's defense. One of them was Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

ORRIN HATCH: I saw Mr. McMaster. I believe what he said is true. So I think it's something that's way blown out of proportion.

WELNA: But at the liberal Washington think tank Center for American Progress, another senator, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, suggested Trump may not have even understood he'd broken protocol by over-sharing with the Russians.

CHRIS MURPHY: I have to hope that someone will counsel the president about just what it means to protect closely held information and why this is so dangerous ultimately to our national security.

WELNA: And Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said the questions being raised about Trump's judgment cannot bode well ahead of his trip later this week to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium.

RON WYDEN: Coming on the eve of a big foreign trip, what the White House and the president did here in the last couple of days probably is not confidence-inspiring in terms of our relationship with our allies.

WELNA: One of those allies is reported to have supplied the U.S. with the intelligence Trump shared with the Russians. The New York Times is reporting that ally is Israel. There is real concern among lawmakers that this incident could discourage future intelligence sharing. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, had some advice today for Trump.

MITCH MCCONNELL: I think it would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.