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Trump revealed highly classified material to Russian officials, Washington Post reports

May 15, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
The Washington Post reported Monday that President Trump may have jeopardized a secret source of intelligence regarding the Islamic State group by discussing highly sensitive information during a White House meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week. But Trump administration officials denied the story was true. Judy Woodruff speaks with The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe, one of reporters who helped break the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House is facing a new storm tonight: The Washington Post and others report President Trump divulged highly sensitive information on the Islamic State group to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week.

The accounts say it may have jeopardized the source of the intelligence.

Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell branded the story false.

And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Mr. Trump never discussed sources, methods or military operations.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said it’s “a slap in the face to the intelligence community” — if it’s true.

A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said protecting secrets is paramount, and the speaker “hopes for a full explanation.”

A short time ago I spoke to Greg Jaffe, one of the Post reporters who broke the story.

GREG JAFFE, The Washington Post: So, the meeting with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador was taking place.

And the president was sharing information with them with regard to the laptop threat that had been an issue — the concern — the threat posed by laptops — the threat posed by aviation to laptops, which had been an issue.

And he was describing the nature of that threat, was boasting about the great intel he had and, in doing so, may have overstepped the bounds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this is information that had come from a U.S. ally, is that correct?

GREG JAFFE: Yes, that’s exactly right.

And it’s particularly sensitive, and I think the ally which controls the dissemination of the information would be upset to have learned that it landed in the Russians’ hands.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It sounds as if, from your reporting, Greg, that the White House recognized pretty quickly what had happened, because you wrote that they contacted both the CIA and the National Security Agency afterwards.

GREG JAFFE: Yes, that’s exactly right.

And they — you know, they controlled dissemination of the transcripts immediately afterwards. And they struck the references to a sort of memo summary that went out in the White House describing the meeting to ensure that the information didn’t get out any further than it already had.

Obviously, the problem is not internal to the U.S. government. The problem is the dissemination to the Russians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the damage done here potentially?

GREG JAFFE: You know, I think there are a couple of concerns.

You know, you worry first and foremost about potentially compromising sources and methods that allowed us — that has allowed us to gather this intelligence over a period of time. My understanding is that this is sort of a stream of intelligence that’s been useful over quite a period of time, so I think that’s the first and foremost worry.

The secondary worry is that you compromise a relationship with an important ally.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m going to read back to you what you quote in the story. And you’re quoting H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser.

He said to you that at no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and he said no military operations were not already disclosed that were not already known publicly.

GREG JAFFE: Yes, I think that’s right.

I think the worry is, by giving — sharing this intelligence with the Russians, that it potentially compromises sources and methods. In other words, this was information that was shared that the Russians weren’t aware of. They didn’t know how we had access to it, so I think the worry is that you — that their ability is to reverse-engineer, to sort of figure out where this information was coming from.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Clearly, Greg Jaffe, you’re not going to tell us your source on this story, but is it fair to say the White House didn’t want this information revealed?

GREG JAFFE: Yes, I think that’s very fair to say that the White House is very concerned, I think, both about the information shared in the Oval Office and about the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where does this go from here? So, the president has shared this in a conversation with the Russian foreign minister, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. What can one expect? Has there been an apology made to the ally, the country, the officials from whom the information came?

GREG JAFFE: You know, I don’t know the answer to that.

You know, I think this is one of those issues where it’s so unprecedented, that I’m not sure where it goes from here. I have been reporting on national security matters for quite a while, and it’s hard to recall something like this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are presidents given some sort of training or guidance on how to talk about intelligence?

GREG JAFFE: Well, you know, they get talking points prior to the meetings. And this is where it’s important to have talking points and have a staff prepare the president and have the president be willing to listen and be prepared.

And I think that’s the concern, that this is a president who doesn’t have a long history in government, is a president who relies on his gut and likes to wing it in meetings. And I think that’s the concern here. You have to be open to being staffed, and I think that’s potentially what was worrisome here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post, one of the reporters on the story that has just broken within the hour, Greg, we thank you.

GREG JAFFE: Yes, thanks for having me.