Trump defends "absolute right" to share info with Russia

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-17 00:24:56|Editor: ZD

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a press conference at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on April 12, 2017. U.S. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

WASHINGTON, May 16 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted that he has "the absolute right" to share certain information with Russia, one night after his top aides strongly denied media reports accusing him of sharing highly classified intelligence with Russian officials in the White House 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 said in a pair of tweets Tuesday morning.

Trump also tweeted Tuesday that he had asked former FBI Director James Comey, whom he fired last week, "from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community ..."

However, Trump didn't specifically say whether he spilled highly classified information to Russian officials via Twitter.

The U.S. president reportedly relayed information from a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office last week.

The Washington Post first reported the disclosure earlier on Monday evening, followed by the New York Times and other nationwide news outlets.

The related information-sharing arrangement was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, according to the Post report.

In response, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell all issued statements later on Monday, claiming such reports are wrong.

"During President Trump's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism," Tillerson said. "During that exchange the nature of specific threats was discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations."

Powell said in a statement, "This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."

"The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation," said McMaster, who participated in the meeting.

"At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly," he said in a statement.

The Post report said Trump appeared to be boasting of the "great intel" he receives when he described a looming terror threat, citing an official with knowledge of the exchange.

The information was provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. The partner did not give the United States permission to share the information with Russia, the Post said.

Following the meeting, the White House contacted the CIA and National Security Agency to contain the damage, according to the Post.

The White House is in a "downward spiral" and needs to do something to get "under control," Republican Senator Bob Corker said following the Post report.

As U.S. president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that such disclosures broke the law, said the Washington Post and New York Times reports.