WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday continued to provide a muddled explanation of reports that the president shared classified information with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting last week.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who had said on Monday that The Washington Post’s reporting was false, would not directly confirm or deny that Trump had shared classified information.
“We don’t say what’s classified, what’s not classified,” McMaster said at a press briefing Tuesday, before adding that “what the president shared was wholly appropriate.”
Trump all but confirmed that he shared classified information in a series of tweets early Tuesday morning, proclaiming that he has “the absolute right” to share any information he wants.
In his effort to clear up the discrepancies between his previous attempt to deny the Post’s report, which was quickly confirmed by several other media outlets, and Trump’s confirmation of it, McMaster maintained that “the premise of that article is false.”
Yet McMaster himself seemed to confirm major parts of the story during Tuesday’s contentious briefing. He suggested that Trump did not know the source of the information when revealing it.
“The president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from,” McMaster said. “He wasn’t briefed on the source of information either.”
The Republican in charge of the Senate investigation into Trump’s Russia ties, Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said he wasn’t willing to take McMaster’s explanation at face value.
“Not until I talk to somebody who was in the meeting. I’ve been trying to do it all morning, but that has not happened yet,” Burr said on his way into the Capitol building. “I want to hear from somebody there exactly what transpired.”
McMaster’s remarks were not sufficient, Burr added.
“I’ve seen his statement, but I really want somebody to sit down and walk me through what was covered,” Burr said.
The chairman indicated he would prefer not to pursue the suggestion from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to demand transcripts.
“I may go to that degree. I hope it doesn’t take that,” Burr said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in an off-camera briefing to reporters later Tuesday, would not say whether the information Trump revealed was classified.
“If the president wanted to share information, that’s within his decision. That all being said, I’m not going to discuss, go down a road parsing what would be and what wouldn’t be,” Spicer said. “Getting into starting to have a discussion about what is or what isn’t classified is a very dangerous road.”
But like McMaster, Spicer seemed to confirm the essential story, saying that Trump’s actions were “extremely appropriate” because the information pertained to “a shared threat that our two countries have and a concern that we have.”
The Post reported that Trump’s disclosure “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.”
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump boasted at last week’s meeting with the Russians, according to an official with knowledge of the meeting.
Despite the grave national security implications, McMaster insisted on Tuesday that the real problem was leaks to reporters, which Trump and other White House officials have also tried to argue.
Trump’s meeting last week came one day after he abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials. That meeting was closed to American reporters, although members of Russian state media were given access.
Michael McAuliff contributed to this report.
This story has been updated with remarks from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and White House press secretary Sean Spicer.