National security adviser H.R. McMaster and press secretary Sean Spicer (L) speak to news media at the White House on Tuesday, regarding the exchange of classified information between President Donald Trump and Russian diplomats. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo
May 16 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump's national security adviser on Tuesday said the commander in-chief did not put U.S. intelligence operatives at risk by divulging information to Russian officials.
H.R. McMaster told reporters at a White House briefing that Trump could not have jeopardized national security because he didn't even know where the information came from.
"The president wasn't even aware of where this information came from," McMaster said. "He wasn't briefed on the source."
McMaster shot down speculation that such disclosures might have put U.S. intelligence assets at risk. He also did not confirm whether the information Trump divulged was in fact classified.
"The president in no way undermined sources or methods in the course of this conversation," he said.
At his briefing, McMaster said more concern should be given to the source who leaked the information in the first place.
"I think the real issue, and what I would like to see debated more, is that our national security has been put at risk by those violating confidentiality," he said. "I think national security is put at risk by this leak and leaks like this."
The national security adviser also reiterated Trump's position that the president has the right to give sensitive information to the Russians as part of the global fight against terrorism.
McMaster's remarks follow reports Monday that Trump revealed highly classified intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a White House meeting last week.
"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 tweeted Tuesday morning. "Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against [the Islamic State] & terrorism."
The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post reported that Trump's disclosures jeopardized intelligence on the Islamic State and said a Middle Eastern ally provided the information, with the understanding that it wouldn't be shared with other countries without permission. The Post reported that Trump shared "code-word information" -- one of the highest classification levels -- about terror threats.
Tuesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a Facebook post that reading U.S. newspapers is "unhealthy"and "dangerous."
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Tuesday that Trump should tell the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence exactly what information he shared with the Russian diplomats.
"Although the president has the legal authority to disclose classified information, it would be very troubling if he did share such sensitive reporting with the Russians," she said. "The Senate Intelligence Committee should be briefed on this important issue immediately."
Collins said that while there are "conflicting reports" on what occurred, "the disclosure of highly classified information has the potential to jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our security."
Trump's CIA director, Mike Pompeo, is expected to brief the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday night.