Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trump Defends Information Sharing With Russians

President Donald J. Trump defended his right to share information relating to "terrorism and airline flight safety" (NYT) with Russia in a Thursday morning tweet. The statement follows a series of media reports saying Trump disclosed highly classified information from an unspecified Middle Eastern ally to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak last week. Former and current U.S. government officials said Trump shared information with Russian officials about a plot by the self-proclaimed Islamic State that was considered so sensitive (NYT) it was not shared with allies nor widely inside the U.S. government. Russia's foreign ministry (Reuters) called the reports "fake." Trump has broad presidential authority to declassify information, making it unlikely that his revelations are illegal (WaPo). Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker said the Trump administration is "in a downward spiral" (FT).
"The revelation came at a sensitive time for the president, who less than a week ago cited 'this Russia thing with Trump' in explaining why he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. Investigators are already probing possible coordination between Trump's campaign and the Russian government, and the president has struggled to shake the issue as he tries to advance his legislative agenda," Elise Viebeck, Mike DeBonis, and Ed O'Keefe write for the Washington Post.
"If Trump has indeed compromised a source of information, it is not merely a betrayal of an ally's trust: It is an act that will jeopardize a whole range of relationships. After all, the Director of Central Intelligence cannot very well say, 'Don’t worry, we won’t share that with the president'," Eliot A. Cohen writes for the Atlantic.
"The information in question is of particular significance both because the Russians might be able to infer sources and methods, notwithstanding General McMaster's careful statement that sources and methods were not 'discussed,' and because it was shared with the United States by a foreign partner.  Indeed, the Post story discusses the concern of U.S. officials that the Russians might inferentially 'identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved,' and one official is quoted as saying that 'Russia could identify our sources or techniques' based on what was disclosed," writes the Lawfare blog.