One of the officials said the intelligence was classified Top Secret and also held in a secure “compartment” to which only a handful of intelligence officials have access.
After Trump disclosed the information, which one of the officials described as spontaneous, officials immediately called the CIA and the National Security Agency, both of which have agreements with a number of allied intelligence services, and informed them what had happened.
While the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize what they called a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement, the U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials have told Reuters they have long been concerned about disclosing highly classified intelligence to Trump.
One official, who requested anonymity to discuss dealing with the president, said last month: “He has no filter; it’s in one ear and out the mouth.”
Deputy national security advisor Dina Powell has denied the story as false. Notably, national security advisor General H.R. McMaster limited his denial to the fact that, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” Likewise, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has denied disclosure of any information on “sources, methods or military operations.” These are both very carefully worded statements that 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. Typically, policies related to the safeguarding of classified information treat both sources and methods information and information pertaining to or related to sources and methods in the same category.
[McMaster's] declaration that the story “as reported” is untrue leaves plenty of room for the administration to pinpoint discrepancies in the Post story without denying the substance. And once again, McMaster does not deny that an egregious breach of national security information was revealed, merely that “intelligence sources or methods [were] discussed” and that the President “disclose[d] any military operations that were not publicly known.” The Post’s Greg Miller, one of the two reporters who broke the story, accused the White House of “playing word games” in response to McMaster’s press conference.
This is perhaps the gravest allegation of presidential misconduct in the scandal-ridden four months of the Trump administration. This story is likely to be immensely consequential. Below are some initial thoughts based on the facts available about what this story is, what it isn’t, and what we do and do not yet know.