PHOENIX — President Donald Trump has “the right” to reportedly tell foreign officials highly classified intelligence information, Arizona Sen. John McCain told reporters on Monday.
“We certainly don’t want any president to leak classified information, but the president does have the right to do that,” McCain told reporters in Washington, D.C.
But McCain also said reports of the president having done so were “deeply disturbing.”
The senior senator’s comment came shortly after he read a report from the Washington Post that alleged Trump “revealed highly classified information about Islamic State militants” to Russian leaders last week.
The newspaper cited both current and former U.S. officials who said Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The threat was related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.
The officials told the Post that the information Trump relayed during the May 10 meeting had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. They said it was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.
Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster did not confirm or deny any of the allegations in the story, instead telling reporters that no “intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
The report itself, which McMaster was quoted in, does not claim that Trump revealed any specific information about how the intelligence was gathered.
However, what Trump allegedly did was not illegal.
A president has wide berth to reveal classified information, but critics already have denounced Trump for having too cozy a relationship with Russia, which intelligence and military officials view as an adversary.
If true, the breach was ill-timed, coming a day after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
McCain said in statement Tuesday that “… Reports that this information was provided by a U.S. ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future.”
McCain’s former chief of staff Mark Salter tweeted on Monday that the “denial of things not alleged in the [Washington Post] story was a confirmation of its accuracy.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle differed in their reactions. Democrats pointed to the story as their proof that Trump acts recklessly, while most Republicans shrugged off the report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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