National security adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday said President Trump did not jeopardize intelligence assets by revealing highly sensitive information to Russian officials, adding that Trump did not know where the intel came from.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, McMaster disputed the “premise” of media reports that Trump put intelligence sources in jeopardy by disclosing the information, saying it was “wholly appropriate” for the president to discuss.
"The president in no way undermined sources or methods in the course of this conversation,” he said, adding that the information could be found in "open-source reporting."
McMaster said Trump could not have endangered national security because he did not even know the source of the information he discussed.
"The president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from,” he said. “He wasn’t briefed on the source."
The top security official did not deny that Trump discussed highly classified information during a May 10 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Moscow's U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
But he attacked leakers who revealed the contents of the discussion to media outlets, saying that was the story that should be getting more attention.
“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."
McMaster hinted that the administration would conduct a broader investigation into the leaks that led to the reports.
"It’s incumbent on all of us to bring in the people with the right mandate and the right authorities to take a look at how this leak occurred and how other breaches may have occurred as well," he said.
McMaster did not respond to a question shouted at him as he left the podium about who might be conducting that investigation.
President Trump's allies have been warning for months that the White House is under attack from lifelong bureaucrats and Obama-era holdovers they believe are responsible for leaking damaging stories to the press.
Those worries have escalated after Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey set off another round of leaks, with Trump's conservative allies in the media, including Breitbart and Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity, warning about the threat from the "deep state."
"There are a number of instances where this occurred and it’s important to investigate these things and make sure we have trusted organizations across our government that allows for the free sharing of information and collaboration," McMaster said.
"In terms of national security, what is critical is that you can assemble the experts you need. You want a bigger group for these complex problems because you need their expertise and the tools they bring from different agencies and departments, so what we really have to do is make sure we have a very high degree of confidence in all our organizations and systems and processes."
The Washington Post and other outlets reported Monday that Trump discussed information about an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that came from a key U.S. partner on the condition it not be shared widely in the government or with other allies.
Democrats, and some Republicans, have lambasted Trump's revelation, saying it could put sources at risk and alienate key intelligence-sharing partners.
Several lawmakers have called on the administration to release transcripts of the conversation to clear up confusion about it.
- Updated at 12:46 p.m.