Trump’s loose lips on intelligence-sharing rattle a few ships in Washington
WASHINGTON — Canadian politicians had an up-close vantage point as another political storm was rolling into Washington. Just as news broke that Donald Trump had revealed classified information to the Russian government, two federal cabinet ministers headed for dinner at the State Department.
Chrystia Freeland and Harjit Sajjan dined with their United States counterparts for foreign affairs and defence — Rex Tillerson and James Mattis. The day’s drama was not a major topic of dinner conversation, based on the readout provided by the U.S. government.
The Canadian government tiptoed Tuesday around the question of whether the news had done anything to rattle faith in exchanging intelligence with the U.S.
“We have a long-standing relationship that has proven to be very valuable over the long term,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in Ottawa.
But there were some frayed nerves in Washington.
Several Republicans expressed concern Tuesday about the dramaa-day White House — which in a single week fired the FBI director; told different stories about why; became the target of a congressional investigation that’s expanding into money-laundering; shared intelligence with Russia; and offered shifting explanations.
The administration initially discounted the details of reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, Buzzfeed and elsewhere that the president gave the Russians a detail about terrorist bomb-making that might help it identify U.S. sources in the Middle East.
But the president admitted the basic details on Twitter — and he said it was no big deal.
“As President I wanted to share with Russia, ... which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he tweeted Tuesday. What’s most important, the president said, is that authorities “find the leakers in the intelligence community.”
The latest drama has rattled already shaky confidence in the president in Washington.
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg: “I think we can do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda.”
Republican lawmaker Mike Gallagher, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, asked to see the transcript of Trump’s conversation with the Russians. His colleague Barbara Comstock called the reports “highly troubling” and demanded classified briefings. Sen. Susan Collins said the release of the information had the potential to “jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our security.”
Different news reports said the original information came from Israeli intelligence. It’s unclear whether the U.S. informed the Israelis it might share the information with the Russians, who have different allies in the region — notably Iran.
The Israelis said they had full confidence in the intelligence-sharing relationship with the U.S., contradicting reports earlier this year that the Israelis had considered withholding secrets from Trump, at the urging of American colleagues worried about their own boss.
Trump’s national security adviser also insisted Tuesday the story was no big deal.
He was in the room last week when the president shared the information with Russia’s foreign minister and U.S. ambassador at the White House.
“What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false, that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in — in national security,” H.R. McMaster told a White House briefing.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks to reporters with fellow Republican senators at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday. Many Republican and Democratic senators expressed frustration and concern about how President Donald Trump may have shared classified intelligence with the Russia.