Lawmakers expressed shock and concern after learning that President Trump had revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting in the Oval Office last week, according to current and former US officials.
Obviously, 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, said Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the Trump administration.
The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment, he said.
Trump’s disclosures jeopardised a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State, according to the officials. The information Trump relayed, officials said, had been provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government.
The news created a sensation as it spread across Washington and up to Capitol Hill today, where senators were returning for votes.
The revelation came at a sensitive time for the president, who less than a week ago cited “this Russia thing with Trump” in explaining why he fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election.
Investigators are already probing possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and the president has struggled to shake the issue as he tries to advance his legislative agenda.
The news is likely to raise questions on Capitol Hill about the Trump’s handling of classified information. It could also increase pressure on investigators looking into Trump’s possible ties to the Kremlin.
And it could pull attention from Republicans’ policy priorities this week. The Senate GOP is working to hammer out the details of a health-care plan, and the House is returning from a one-week break.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called the news a slap in the face to the intel community.
Risking sources and methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote on Twitter around 6pm.
As senators gathered for their first vote of the week, both Republicans and Democrats said they were worried about the developing story.
Pretty terrifying, said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). If true, it is astonishing, appalling and should be investigated. It was astonishing and absolutely surprising. I would never have imagined the chief executive of our great nation would undertake that kind of disclosure.
I would be concerned anytime we’re discussing sensitive subjects with the Russians, said Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Thune reacted after an initial briefing on the news report and said he had not reviewed details.
Senator Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he’d only heard the basics of the report but called them “very serious.” He noted fewer than 25 senators are ever given access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets and he learns things he “can’t even talk about with other senators.”
If the reports are true, it’s very damning, very damaging, Manchin said, adding that such disclosures would be extremely dangerous and concerning to all.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) said had he just read the Post story and, if true, that would be genuinely shocking.
It’s disturbing if true, Senator Angus King (I-Maine) said.
Several senators said they did not know the details of the Post report, but called the news troubling nonetheless.
This is not the appropriate move on his part, and I just think it’s part of a pattern of recklessness that we’ve got to get a handle on, said Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
We certainly don’t want any president to leak classified information … I think any president needs to be careful, said Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she had not specifically seen the story but seemed to sympathize with the notion of sharing sensitive information by accident.
Sometimes you know after years you forget Where did I hear that? she said, calling it easy to slip.
Blumenthal said that several senators were discussing the report on the Senate floor during a procedural vote less than an hour after the story published. He described other senators as astonished and appalled by the details.
It’s another example of the free press uncovering stuff that the American people should know and that hopefully will cause and outcry and outrage that will have some cumulative effect in protecting our democracy, Blumenthal said.
There are penalties for improperly and perhaps illegally disclosing classified information, he continued. And they may not apply directly to the president, but there are ultimately sanctions that apply to presidents as well. No one is above the rule of law in this country.
McCain, clearly flustered by reporters pressing for answers, walked off the Senate floor and said that he hadn’t read the reports, adding, “I can’t comment on every breaking news story.”
So a reporter tried a broader approach: You wouldn’t approve of a government official sharing secrets with the Russians, right?
No, I would always approve of such a thing, McCain quipped as he boarded an elevator.
As the elevator doors closed, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told McCain: You can say that and they’d laugh it off, but if I said it…
Then the doors closed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was silent as he walked from his office to the Senate floor. Asked how concerned he was about Trump sharing information with Russian officials, he looked straight ahead, offering no reaction.
Senator John Cornyn (Texas), the Republican whip and a candidate to replace Comey as FBI director, said he didn’t have any information about that at all.
I’m just not going to answer a hypothetical question, he told reporters.