WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s consequential meeting with two of Russia’s top foreign operatives earlier this month has cast a pall over his administration, raising questions about the President’s ability to handle classified information when meeting with sometimes adversarial foreign leaders.
Here is what we know about the meeting:
Who was in the meeting?
Donald Trump — President Rex Tillerson — Secretary of State H.R. McMaster — National Security Adviser Dina Powell — Deputy National Security Adviser Missing? Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and top aide
Sergey Lavrov — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak — Russian ambassador to the US A slew of other unidentified Russian aides
Why the meeting was controversial in the first place
No United States media were invited in for the meeting, but a photographer from TASS, the Russian state media organization, was in the room for at least part of the meeting.
Aides in the White House were “furious” after photos from the meeting were tweeted by the Russian embassy in the United States even before the White House told reporters that Kislyak, the ambassador who is well known as a Russian spy, was in the meeting.
“They tricked us,” an angry White House official said. “That’s the problem with the Russians — they lie.”
Additionally, the meeting raised alarm bells in Washington because it came one day after Trump decided to fire FBI Director James Comey while the bureau investigated his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
The meeting itself was a personal request from Vladimir Putin. The Russian President asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump earlier this month.
What did Trump reveal in the White House meeting?
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.
In April, CNN first reported that US intelligence and law enforcement agencies believed that ISIS and other terrorist organizations had developed new ways to place explosives in laptops and other electronic devices to evade airport security screening methods.
Officials told CNN at the time that the ban came about following the collection of intercepted material and “human intelligence.”
According to US and diplomatic officials, Israeli intelligence was a source for some of the information about ISIS bomb-making capabilities that the President discussed with Russian diplomats.
What has been the White House’s explanation?
The White House has scrambled to respond to the news for the last 24 hours, at first denying the story, then arguing that Trump was “wholly appropriate” to discuss the information with the Russians.
“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the President did not disclose any military operations that weren’t already publicly known,” McMaster told reporters Monday night. “I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”
Powell flatly said: “This story is false.”
But then Trump seemingly admitted sharing information, tweeting Tuesday: “As President I wanted to share with Russia… which I have the absolute right to do.”
Later Tuesday, in a briefing with reporters on the President’s upcoming foreign trip, McMaster stood by his Monday comments but seemingly nodded to the fact Trump had disclosed information.
Trump, he said, “made the decision in the context of the conversation which was wholly appropriate.”
How does this complicate things for the White House?
Trump is about to set off on an eight-day, five-country trip in his first foreign venture as president where he will have countless conversations with foreign leaders.
The idea that Trump could share information gleaned in those conversations with countries that are not friendly to the United States could chill some of these interactions and make world leaders question what they share with Trump.
There are also concerns on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday the disclosure would be “very, very problematic” if true.
“They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Corker said. “You know the shame of it is there’s a really good national security team in place.”
A White House official told CNN on Tuesday that the McMaster briefing was intended to “calm Republicans on the Hill.”