Trump: Intel shared for 'humanitarian reasons'
US President defends his decision to divulge classified information to Russia
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump yesterday insisted he had the right to share "facts" with Russia, saying he acted to help Moscow in its "fight against ISIS and terrorism".
His Twitter message came one day after news broke that he allegedly divulged classified information to Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak during their visit to the Oval Office last week.
"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," he wrote in an early morning tweet.
In his tweet, Mr Trump wrote that he was motivated by "humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."
In a later tweet, Mr Trump took aim at "leakers in the intelligence community," a frequent target of his months-old administration.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, had reported that Mr Trump went off script during the meeting, describing details about an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria threat related to the use of laptop computers on planes, revealing the city where the information was gathered, AFP reported.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster had denied the president had revealed "intelligence sources or methods" but acknowledged that Mr Trump and Mr Lavrov had "reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation".
Mr McMaster said the Washington Post story was false, Reuters reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the report was not worth confirming or denying, calling it "nonsense".
"For us it is not an issue, it's more nonsense," he said, when asked about the report.
"We want nothing to do with this nonsense. It's not an issue for confirming or denying, it's complete nonsense."
In response to the story, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that people don't read American newspapers.
Ms Maria Zakharova said she had received dozens of messages asking about the reports.
"Guys, have you been reading American newspapers again?" she wrote on her Facebook page.
"You shouldn't read them. You can put them to various uses, but you shouldn't read them.
"Lately, it's become not only harmful, but dangerous, too."
The disclosures have roiled the administration as it has struggled to move past the backlash over Mr Trump's abrupt firing on May 9 of FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) director James Comey, who was investigating potential ties between Russia and Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
US 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 jeopardise a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement.
The US leader's disclosure of classified information did not break the law, according to the national security blog Lawfare.
But such revelations could expose sources and methods and "substantially harm" US intelligence gathering partnerships with foreign governments.
"This is perhaps the gravest allegation of presidential misconduct in the scandal-ridden four months of the Trump administration," the blog said.
"This story is likely to be immensely consequential."
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 responses.
Mr Ryan's office said he hoped for a full explanation, while McConnell told Bloomberg TV he wished for a little less drama from the White House.
But other Republicans expressed concern.
Senator Susan Collins said that even though the president has legal authority to disclose classified information, "it would be very troubling if he did share such sensitive reporting with the Russians".
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer accused Mr Trump of potentially putting American lives at risk.
He said: "If the report is true, it is very disturbing.
"Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country.
"The president owes the intelligence community, the American people and Congress a full explanation."