The White House Won’t Deny the Facts of Latest Russia Scandal But Says It’s False Anyway

“Wholly appropriate.”

Trump with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office on May 10Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Zuma

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On Monday, the Washington Post set off a political firestorm when it reported that President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in their White House meeting on May 10. Current and former US officials told the Post that the disclosure jeopardized a valuable source of intelligence on ISIS. The paper quoted one official as saying that Trump had “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

On Monday evening, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster read a confusing statement to the press that appeared to deny the Post’s report. “The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false,” he said, adding that “at no time—at no time—were intelligence sources or methods discussed.” Multiple news outlets soon pointed out that McMaster’s verbal gymnastics seemed to be a classic “nondenial denial.” That is, McMaster appeared to be denying information that wasn’t actually reported by the Post in the first place. The Post had not claimed that “intelligence sources or methods” were discussed; the paper had simply reported that the information discussed could be used to discern intelligence sources or methods.

Trump, for his part, appeared to muddy the waters further Tuesday morning when he took to Twitter to defend his actions. Unlike McMaster, Trump didn’t even purport to dispute the Post‘s reporting:

Later Tuesday, McMaster appeared before the press yet again in an attempt to clear up the situation. Asked about his Monday claim that the Post story was “false,” McMaster said, “I stand by my statement that I made yesterday.” But he then went on to suggest that he wasn’t actually claiming the facts in the story were wrong. Rather, he said it was the “premise” of the article that was false. According to McMaster, “What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false—that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security.”

In other words, McMaster wasn’t disputing any of the details in the Post‘s report; he was simply saying the president’s actions were somehow appropriate. McMaster refused to say whether or not the information the president shared with Lavrov and Kislyak was classified. But he repeated several times that Trump’s decision to share the material was “wholly appropriate.”

And why does McMaster think Trump’s statements to the Russians were appropriate? Because, McMaster seemed to imply, the president can decide to share whatever he wants. “As you know,” he said, “it is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did…He made the decision in the context of the conversation, which was wholly appropriate.”

McMaster added that Trump wasn’t even aware that the information apparently came from a sensitive intelligence source:

So there you have it: The Post story is “false” because Trump’s statement’s were “appropriate,” and Trump’s statement’s were “appropriate” because he’s the president.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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