President Donald Trump insisted Monday that he “never mentioned” Israel in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at which he reportedly shared highly classified information from a foreign partner.
The disclosure raised concerns that Trump had compromised an intelligence source and media later reported the information had come from the Israelis.
“I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned during that conversation,” Trump said at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem when asked by journalists about the reports. “They’re all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”
Trump reportedly told Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at a meeting this month about an Islamic State threat using laptops on planes, including highly classified details about the origin of the intelligence, which came from a “partner” later reported to be Israel.
Reports had not alleged, as Trump seemed to imply, that the president had directly revealed the source of the intelligence to be Israel, rather that he had provided information that could potentially compromise the intelligence source.
The White House immediately denied the report, until Trump tweeted the next day that he had an “absolute right” to share information he deems fit as president.
“Intelligence cooperation is terrific. It’s never been better,” Netanyahu said alongside Trump in Jerusalem.
Trump’s meeting with the Russian officials came amid broader questions about Trump’s handling of a probe into ties between his campaign and Russia and just one day after he fired FBI director James Comey, who had been leading the investigation.
Meanwhile Monday, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, whose own interactions with the Russians have been a focus of the investigation reportedly will decline a Senate subpoena to provide information to the Senate intelligence committee, CNN reported.
Flynn is to invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination in refusing to cooperate, a source close to Flynn told the broadcaster.
Trump had reportedly urged Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.
In the wake of reports last week that Comey had documented such conversations with Trump, the Justice Department named Robert Mueller, a former prosecutor who was FBI director from 2001-13, as special counsel to take over the Russia-Trump investigation.
The widening probe has cast a shadow over the White House, as Trump makes a nine-day trip across the Middle East and Europe.