When Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office last Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director James Comey who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he did so at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance:
The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”
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The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI Director James Comey. On Wednesday morning before meeting with Trump, Lavrov even cracked a joke about his hosts’ political predicament, laughingly claiming not to have heard of the Comey firing while standing alongside Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
In other words, Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.
At the time, security experts raised concerns about the Russian state media being allowed into the oval office. Russian photographer’s visit to Oval Office raises security concerns:
The American press was barred, but a Russian photographer was allowed inside the Oval Office for a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, raising concerns by some security experts.
The White House defended its security, but other former intelligence officials said the level of screening granted for a visitor may not have been sufficient enough to detect espionage devices, The Washington Post reports.
The Russian “had to go through the same screening as a member of the U.S. press going through the main gate to the [White House] briefing room,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post.
According to the newspaper, the administration official said the White House had been told the Russian was Lavrov’s official photographer but was not informed that he also worked for the Russian news agency Tass.
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Russia also has a history of sneaking surveillance devices into U.S. facilities.
But now we learn that the real national security risk is Putin’s puppet, Donald Trump himself. The Washington Post reports Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador:
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”
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Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a key figure in earlier Russia controversies — into the Oval Office. It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.
For almost anyone in government, discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.
White House officials involved in the meeting said Trump discussed only shared concerns about terrorism.
“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
McMaster reiterated his statement in a subsequent appearance at the White House on Monday and described the Washington Post story as “false,” but did not take any questions.
In their statements, White House officials emphasized that Trump had not discussed specific intelligence sources and methods, rather than addressing whether he had disclosed information drawn from sensitive sources.
The CIA declined to comment, and the NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
But officials expressed concern about Trump’s handling of sensitive information as well as his grasp of the potential consequences. Exposure of an intelligence stream that has provided critical insight into the Islamic State, they said, could hinder the United States’ and its allies’ ability to detect future threats.
“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”
In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.
Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.
The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.
“Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive, and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling,” said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it.
“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.
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Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.
One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.
White House officials defended Trump. “This story is false,” said Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy. “The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”
But officials could not explain why staff members nevertheless felt it necessary to alert the CIA and the NSA.
How dangerous is Trump?
U.S. officials said that the National Security Council continues to prepare multi-page briefings for Trump to guide him through conversations with foreign leaders, but that he has insisted that the guidance be distilled to a single page of bullet points — and often ignores those.
“He seems to get in the room or on the phone and just goes with it, and that has big downsides,” the second former official said. “Does he understand what’s classified and what’s not? That’s what worries me.”
President Trump declared on Twitter early Tuesday that he had an “absolute right” to share with top Russian officials information about an Islamic State threat during a White House meeting last week.
So Trump tacitly admits to sharing classified information — just 12 hours after his top national security aides said the story was “false.” Trump just threw his top advisers under the bus … again. “And just as with last week, it seems, we now have the president pretty much contradicting his own staff on a major controversy.”
And the Russians are ramping up their “fake news” propaganda efforts in response. They are mocking America through the actions of their useful idiot, Donald Trump. Donald Trump Defends Sharing Intelligence With Russia:
Also on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry denied that Mr. Trump had given classified information to Russian officials — and denigrated American news reports of the disclosure as “fake.”
“I just landed in Madrid,” the spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, wrote on Facebook. “I turned on the phone, and there were dozens of messages. ‘Maria Vladimirova, is it true Trump revealed the most important secret?’ ”
Ms. Zakharova called the report “the latest fake,” and disparaged the newspapers that published it. “Guys, you are again reading American newspapers? You should not read them. They can be used in various ways, but there’s no need to read them — lately, this is not only harmful, but dangerous.”
She did not specify in what ways the newspapers should be used.
Ms. Zakharova said she predicted last Thursday, the day after the meeting, that American news organizations were preparing a “sensation” about the meeting. The news media’s plan included, she wrote, publishing secret photographs to “give this latest fake grounding and legitimacy.”
“This part of the information campaign we destroyed, having published photographs in accordance with all laws of professional ethics.”
She did not elaborate.
This is getting surreal.