White House Shifts to Vigorously Defending Trump's Russia Meeting

Trump's national security adviser calls conversation 'wholly appropriate' but refuses to say whether the president divulged classified information.


President Donald Trump and his aides shifted their damage control strategy on Tuesday, defending Trump’s conversation with Russian officials about allegedly classified information as “wholly appropriate” — while stoking the theory that disloyal figures within the government are trying to undermine the president through leaks to the press.


Tuesday's tone marked a shift from the tack taken Monday evening by the Trump administration, with multiple aides — including national security adviser H.R. McMaster — aggressively pushing back against a Washington Post story alleging that the president had shared highly sensitive information with two Russian diplomats as "false."


By late Tuesday morning, McMaster was calling the “premise” of the article false, but he refused to deny that Trump had shared classified information and only said that "we don’t say what’s classified, what’s not classified.”


“What I will tell you is in the context of that discussion, 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 told reporters in the White House briefing room.


He also tried to change the subject to the leaks that produced the story — a fixation of Trump’s. “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 could be used, connected with other information available, to make American citizens and others more vulnerable,” McMaster said.


The process continued in the afternoon as White House press secretary Sean Spicer slammed the leaks to the press as “frankly dangerous” and “extremely troubling” and painted the situation as a grave one in which certain people inside the government are trying to derail Trump.


“This is clearly a pattern of people releasing sensitive information to further what appears to be someone’s agenda,” Spicer told reporters at an off-camera briefing. “The idea that there is no concern, or seemingly no concern, over something like this being put out in the open, I think is frankly concerning, and it should be to every American.”


The argument echoed right-wing media outlets that have played up the notion that leaks to the press are an attempt to undermine Trump.


Spicer continued to frame Trump’s move to share information with Russia as routine, while declining to say whether or not the information Trump provided was classified. He repeatedly referenced statements from McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell — none of whom have denied that Trump shared classified information.


Spicer declined to comment on whether the information Trump share was provided by Israel, which the New York Times and other media outlets reported Tuesday afternoon.


The shift to a more offensive strategy came as the White House battles multiple scandals ahead of Trump’s first foreign trip as president, which will include a stop in Israel. Aides are still trying to contain the fallout from Trump’s abrupt firing last week of former FBI Director James Comey, who had been overseeing a probe into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials as part of the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election.


Follow the link to see the source article published by POLITICO May 16, 2017.



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