Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr says he has yet to get an explanation from the White House on what happened in the Oval Office meeting where the president reportedly shared classified information with the Russians.
Burr, a North Carolina Republican, says he waited all morning to get a call from someone in the room who can tell him what happened. He says: “Maybe they’re busy.”
Burr told a small group of reporters in the Capitol that “my major concern right now is that I don’t know what the president said.”
Burr added, “I’d like to think somebody from the White House who was in the room is going to get on the phone and tell me what they said.”
Mo. lawmakers spoke out on the incident the day after the story emerged. Senator Roy Blunt issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“One of the lessons I’ve learned as a member of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees is that sharing closely held information may provide a way for our adversaries to figure out how we got that information. One of the key principles of protecting sources and methods is to never share the information you get from those sources.”
Mo. Senator Claire McCaskill said members of Congress “need to know exactly what was said.”
“Getting intelligence on the activities of the Islamic State is essential to our national security and to the safety of Missouri’s families. And jeopardizing our allies and sources who are assisting us in this war against these terrorists is a grave error. A casual communication which could undermine our safety and our troops on the front line is not acceptable, so I agree with my Republicans colleagues that we need to know exactly what was said.”
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II called the reports of Trump’s actions “beyond disturbing.”
“This report that President Trump may have provided highly classified information to senior Russian officials is beyond disturbing. Congress must immediately be briefed on what, if anything, was provided to Russian senior officials, and whether it could impact the national security interest of the United States. Additionally, the seriousness of these allegations cannot be understated. It’s past time for an independent commission.”
Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.
President Trump’s disclosure of sensitive information to the Russians regarding Syria is certain to raise questions from our friends and allies whose partnership is critical in order to protect American lives. While the President of the United States has the authority to declassify intelligence as he sees fit, these actions damage and distract from the important work the American people have entrusted their leaders to accomplish. The president and his administration must protect our national security by making certain sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands.”
The magnitude of the political headache facing the White House is reflecting in increasingly critical positioning from top GOP lawmakers.
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a strikingly critical statement about Monday’s developments.
“The reports that the President shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials are deeply disturbing. Reports that this information was provided by a US 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 said.
“Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians was time he did not spend focusing on Russia’s aggressive behavior, including its interference in American and European elections, its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, its other destabilizing activities across Europe, and the slaughter of innocent civilians and targeting of hospitals in Syria,” McCain said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan notably did not come out forcefully in favor of the President Monday night, issuing a statement seeking more information.
In his first reaction, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the point on Tuesday that all the turbulence unleashed by the White House was jeopardizing grand Republican plans to exploit congressional majorities.
“I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House,” McConnell said on Bloomberg Television. “We could focus on our agenda, which is the regulations, tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had been in touch with the White House after the Post story broke on Monday, but needed more information.
“We need to learn more about it … I have very specific questions and hope they will be answered at some point today,” Rubio told CNN.
On Monday Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned that the White House was “in a downward spiral right now” and staff “have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”
The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a previous story on the travel restrictions.
The concern, US officials told CNN, was that publishing certain information, including a city where some of the intelligence was detected, could tip off adversaries about the sources and methods used to gather the intelligence.
There is some disagreement, according to one of the sources, as to how far the President went. The intelligence relates to what is known as a special access program, or SAP, which covers some of the most classified information and is protected with unique access and security protocols.
According to The Washington Post, Trump described details to Lavrov and Kislyak about how ISIS hopes to use laptop computers as bombs on planes.
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” one official with knowledge of the meeting described Trump as saying, according to the Post, before the President reportedly relayed specific intelligence.
Details about how the White House responded to the meeting with the Russians emerged as Washington tried to digest the scale of the crisis now gripping the White House over last week’s meeting.
Lawmakers, including prominent Republicans, are expressing concern about the President’s actions and demanding more details from the White House, as broader debate rages over what the episode means for future US intelligence cooperation with foreign powers, and whether efforts to thwart the ISIS plot may have been complicated in some way.
McMaster branded the reporting “false” on Monday night as part of a swift White House damage control operation.
But Trump appeared to contradict his own staff and validate at least some of the reporting on Tuesday when he suggested the decision to talk to the Russians about the issue had been a strategic choice.
Two former officials knowledgeable about 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.