McMaster on Trump’s Conversation With Russians: ‘Real Issue’ is Leaks

By Susan Jones | May 16, 2017 | 12:52 PM EDT

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster takes reporters' questions at the White House on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. (Screen grab from CNN)

( - National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that he disagrees with the “premise” of a Washington Post report saying that President Trump inappropriately “revealed highly classified information” to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a White House meeting last week.

“What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said.

In fact, McMaster told reporters that Trump did not know where the information came from: He "wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information."

McMaster said the “real issue” is leaks to the press:

“And so I think the real issue, and I think what I’d like to see really debated more, is that our national security has been put at risk by those violating confidentiality and those releasing information to the press that can be used, connected with other information available, to make American citizens and other more vulnerable.”

Asked how the information got from the Oval Office to the Washington Post, McMaster said it’s important to find out. He also noted that this has happened a number of times in the Trump presidency:

“And I think it’s important to investigate these sorts of things and to make sure that we have trusted organizations across our government that allows for the free sharing of information and collaboration.

“What we really have to do is make sure we have a very high degree of confidence in all of our organizations and all of our systems and processes, so we can do what we need to do for the president, which is give him our best advice and give him options to deal with these very complex problems.”

(Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning, "I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community.....")

Asked when Trump decided to share the information with the Russians, McMaster said Trump made the decision “in the context of the conversation.”

“The president was meeting with the foreign minister about the terrorist threat. He’d also raised some difficult issues -- what we expected in terms of different behavior from Russia in key areas like – like Ukraine and … Syria.

“But then the president was emphasizing, we have some common interests here. We have to work together on some critical areas…ISIS in particular, an organization that had already taken down a Russian airliner and murdered over 200 people in October of 2015.

“And so this was the context of the conversation in which it was wholly appropriate to share what the threat was as a basis for common action and coordination.”

McMaster said he’s “not concerned at all” that U.S. allies will stop sharing vital information with the United States, given this latest controversy.

Asked why the White House homeland security adviser felt it necessary to notify the CIA and the NSA about Trump’s conversation, as the Post reported, McMaster said it might have been due to an “over-abundance of caution.”

At the very end of the news conference, McMaster said, “I should just make maybe this statement here: that the president wasn’t even aware, you know, of where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information, either.

As McMaster left the briefing room on that bombshell, reporters erupted with shouted questions that went unanswered.

According to the Washington Post, “The information the president relayed (to the Russians) had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.”