US President Donald Trump has insisted that he “never mentioned” Israel in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey 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.”
No one said Trump mentioned Israel. He shared intelligence with Russians from Israel. Today, Trump seems to have unwittingly confirmed it.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) May 22, 2017
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 Washington Post 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 his 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.
As Trump became the first sitting president to visit the hallowed Western Wall on Monday, it remained unclear whether his administration was changing longstanding US policy by declaring the wall’s location to be Israel, rather than Jerusalem.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed questions over whether the administration is considering a change in policy, after top officials offered conflicting views.
“The wall is part of Jerusalem,” he said, declaring an undeniable fact accepted by all sides. He didn’t elaborate on the more delicate question: whether the administration would change US policy over the status of Jerusalem.
The president arrived at the wall Monday afternoon, donning a yarmulke, as is the tradition at Jewish holy sites. His wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner accompanied him. Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism to marry Kushner, an orthodox Jew.