Defiant Trump says he had 'absolute right' to share information with Russia

Eugene Scott, CNN | 5/16/2017, 11:24 a.m.
President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday he had the right to share information with Russia related to terrorism and other issues, ...

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday he had the right to share information with Russia related to terrorism and other issues, his first public response to the revelation he disclosed classified information at an Oval Office meeting 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, Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism," he tweeted.

Trump's tweets Tuesday notably lack any mention of whether the information he shared was classified.

And the remarks appear to contradict statements made by his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster -- who told reporters in the wake of the report that the story "as reported is false" -- and White House deputy national security adviser for strategy, Dina Powell, who said Monday "the story is false. The President only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."

Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting last week, The Washington Post first reported Monday.

Two former officials knowledgeable of the situation confirmed to CNN that the main points of the Post story are accurate: The President shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister.

Trump did not directly reveal the source of the information, but intelligence officials told CNN that there is concern that Russia will be able to figure out the highly sensitive source.

The White House dismissed the report Monday night, issuing several statements before sending McMaster before White House reporters.

"At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the President did not disclose any military operations that weren't already publicly known," he said. "I was in the room. It didn't happen."

Soon after Trump defended his handling of the Russia meeting, he then reiterated his longstanding call to find leakers in the intelligence community, saying he had called on former FBI Director James Comey and others to investigate "from the beginning of my administration."

Intel analysts outraged

Early responses to the bombshell report indicate that, if true, handling sensitive details in this manner would have broad implications on US partnerships around the world and could place the lives of agents in the field at risk.

"Never before have I witnessed a senior government official so carelessly threaten an intelligence-sharing relationship," a former senior intelligence official told CNN.

Mark Hertling, a national security, intelligence and terrorism analyst for CNN, said giving Russia information has not historically led to them being forthcoming with the United States.

"I'm concerned about the fact that the President feels like he has to give something to Russia first when there have been repeated instances of Russia being sanctioned in Ukraine, committing war crimes in Syria and conducting operations that are contrary to what we'd like to believe are freedom of operations and sovereignties of different nations," he said Tuesday on CNN's "New Day." "This confuses me to no end."