What National Security Adviser McMaster did not deny about Trump sharing intelligence with Russia

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster protests
(Image credit: AP/YouTube)

The part the White House wants you to remember about National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's statement, read at a hastily arranged press conference Monday evening, is his last line about The Washington Post's bombshell report that President Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in their already unusual Oval Office meeting: "I was in the room. It didn't happen." The carefully worded statement said the Washington Post article, "as reported, is false," but what he specifically denied is not what The Washington Post reported.

McMaster said Trump never discussed "intelligence sources or methods" with the Russian officials, and "did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known." But what the Post reported — confirmed by The New York Times, Reuters, CNN, and BuzzFeed, one of whose sources said Trump's disclosure is "far worse than what has already been reported" — is that Trump "jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State" by sharing details Russia could use "to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved."

Importantly, "at no point in his statement to the Post before the story went live or in his appearance in front of reporters afterward does McMaster say, 'President Trump didn't share classified information with Russia' or anything close to it," says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. A group of top national security lawyers at Lawfare make a similar point: that McMaster's "carefully worded" statement and another from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "leave open the possibility that classified information was disclosed other than sources and methods or that classified information was disclosed which might be used as a basis to infer sources and methods not directly disclosed." They also explain why this matters:

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It is important to recognize that not all top secret information is created equal. The most sensitive category by far is that related to the protection of "sources and methods," which relates not just to the substance of intelligence but to the manner by which it was obtained. If sources and methods information is revealed, it risks losing the method of collection in the future, which poses much larger long-term security consequences. [Lawfare]

The CNN report below indicates that intelligence sources differ slightly on the exact severity of Trump's disclosure to the Russians, but do agree it is a big deal. Peter Weber

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