May 16, 2017

WAPO: Trump acknowledges ‘facts’ shared with Russian envoys during White House meeting.

President Trump appeared to acknowledge Tuesday that he revealed highly classified information to Russia — a stunning confirmation of a Washington Post story and a move that contradicted his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report.

Trump’s tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, “code-word” information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting last week, a disclosure that intelligence officials warned could jeopardize a crucial intelligence source on the Islamic State.

“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,” Trump wrote Tuesday morning. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

I’ll try to unpack this.

Yesterday, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said the original WaPo report was false. That’s a complicated denial, because the thing which McMaster said was false — that Trump revealed “methods and sources” to the Russians — wasn’t in the original WaPo report.

So McMaster denied something nobody was reporting, which could have been obfuscation or could have been a misunderstanding of what was reported. We just don’t know. What we do know is that McMaster is on record saying that the President did not reveal the methods and sources which could endangered an intelligence operation and our spies on the ground.

Despite what WaPo implied today, Trump’s tweet did not contradict McMaster’s complicated denial. Trump says he shared anti-ISIS intel, minus the methods and sources, with Russia — as is his right. Whether or not that was wise depends on how you view the potential for combined U.S.-Russian anti-ISIS operations. “It’s complicated” would probably be a fair assessment.

So the short version is that the President did share “highly classified information” regarding ISIS and/or terrorism in general, but not in such a way to compromise either our intelligence gathering or our intelligence officers. And that last bit comes from no less than H.R. McMaster, who wrote the book (or at least one of the first books) on how careless and stupid politicians got us into Vietnam and doomed our war there.

Today’s WaPo followup (quoted and linked above) by Ashley Parker concludes that “Trump’s tweets undercut his administration’s frantic effort Monday night to contain the damaging report.” But if I’ve unpacked this correctly, then that conclusion doesn’t follow from what was reported yesterday, what was thoroughly denied by McMaster, and by what Trump tweeted this morning. The only way to reach Parker’s conclusion is to take McMaster’s denial of one specific item (“methods and sources”) as a blanket denial. But that’s not what he said.

However, the White House P.R. effort was conducted in its customarily chaotic way, which has allowed WaPo (and many others) to make claims and conclusions which the facts — if I’ve correctly understood them — don’t support.