During a photo opportunity with President Trump on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked if he’s concerned about Trump sharing highly sensitive counterterrorism intelligence with Russian officials on May 10 — information that reportedly came from an Israeli source.
Trump responded by telling reporters that he never mentioned the word “Israel” during that meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
“Just so you understand — I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel,’” Trump said. “I never mentioned it during that conversation.”
Gesturing to reporters, Trump added, “They were all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel.’”
“Intelligence cooperation is terrific,” Netanyahu said.
President Trump says he “never mentioned the word Israel” in his Oval Office meeting with Russian officials https://t.co/84ZCW64hcE
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 22, 2017
The details Trump shared about an ISIS plot to use an explosive tucked inside a laptop computer to bring down a U.S.-bound airplane were quickly traced back to an Israeli source. But before Trump’s comments on Monday, administration officials hadn’t publicly said anything about it, nor had they confirmed that the intelligence came from Israel.
During a news conference last week, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster didn’t deny that Trump shared classified information with the Russians, but said Trump “wasn’t even aware of where that information came from.”
Trump’s comments on Monday also misrepresented mainstream media reports about his disclosure, none of which claimed he mentioned Israel by name during his meeting with the Russian diplomats.
The consequences of Trump’s disclosure are both immediate and long-term. ABC, citing current and former U.S. officials, reported that Trump’s actions endangered the life of a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS. Matt Olsen, the former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told ABC that “the real risk is not just this source…but future sources of information about plots against us.”
On Friday, Foreign Policy, citing an unnamed Israeli intelligence officer, reported that Israel officials “are angry and alarmed” by the disclosure.
“The revelation that sensitive information may have been passed to Russia, a partner to Iran, was particularly concerning,” Foreign Policy added. “Israel has become increasingly anxious about Russia’s military cooperation with Iran in support of the Syrian regime and its growing cyberwarfare capabilities… In Israel, there is fear the compromise of intelligence could damage the country’s interests and even jeopardize lives, the official said.”
Similarly, two Israeli intelligence officials told BuzzFeed that Trump’s disclosure was Israel’s “worst fears confirmed.”
“We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country,” an anonymous Israeli official said, according to BuzzFeed. “There is a special understanding of security cooperation between our countries… To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed.”
Although Israelis aren’t happy about Trump’s conduct, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier Monday that no apology will be forthcoming.
“I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One. “To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”
While Trump’s comments brought renewed focus to the revelation that Trump took the unusual step of sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russia on May 10, that development was overshadowed over the weekend by another bombshell report about what Trump told Russian officials during that Oval Office rendezvous.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that Trump told the top Russian diplomats that his move to fire FBI Director James Comey amid an ongoing FBI investigation into his campaign’s links with Russia relied “great pressure” on him.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak, according to a document read to Times reporters by an anonymous source. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The White House didn’t dispute that Trump in fact said those words, which seem to confirm he fired Comey to obstruct an ongoing investigation into his campaign.