WASHINGTON — President Trump appeared to acknowledge Tuesday that he revealed highly classified information to Russia — a stunning confirmation of a Washington Post story and a move that contradicted his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report.
Trump's tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, "code-word" information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting last week, a disclosure that intelligence officials warned could jeopardize a crucial intelligence source on the Islamic State.
"As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety," Trump wrote Tuesday morning. "Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."
Trump's tweets undercut his administration's frantic effort Monday night to contain the damaging report. The White House trotted out three senior administration officials — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — to deny the very reports Trump openly confirmed less than 24 hours later.
The president's admission also follows a familiar pattern. Last week, after unexpectedly firing FBI director James B. Comey, the White House originally claimed that the president was acting in response to a memo provided by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
But in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt, Trump later admitted that he had made the decision to fire Comey well before Rosenstein's memo, in part because he was frustrated by the director's investigation into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and the Russian government.
At the time, Trump was surprised by the almost universal bipartisan backlash to his decision, and raged at his staff, threatening to shake-up his already tumultuous West Wing. His communications team — Communications Director Mike Dubke and press secretary Sean Spicer — bore the brunt of the president's ire.
On Monday night, following the Washington Post story, the president again was frustrated with Dubke and Spicer, according to someone with knowledge of the situation.
But his decision Tuesday to undermine his own West Wing staff in a series of tweets is unlikely to help him bring stability to his chaotic administration, just days before he departs on a 10-day trip abroad.
Because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.