On Monday, The Washington Post broke the story that President Trump told Russian officials highly classified information when he met with them in the Oval Office last week. The story has been verified by multiple news outlets, and even Trump himself seemed to verify the story in tweets from this morning. But what kind of information was it?
According to the Post, the information that Trump shared with the Russians is what’s called “Code Word” classified. That’s higher than the classification known as Top Secret.
The lowest level of classification is known as Confidential, followed by Secret and Top Secret. The next level is known as Code Word classified. It provides an extra level above Top Secret to compartmentalize information so that only the most high-level American officials who need to know it can see it. As Amy Zegart at The Atlantic put it, Code Word classification is so obscure that “even fake spies rarely refer to it in the movies.”
The nature of the information was known to the reporters at The Washington Post, but not revealed in the article at the advice of America’s intelligence community. All we know for sure is that it has something to do with ISIS.
Many are speculating that the information could reveal sources in some place like Jordan and that Trump’s exposure of the intel means Jordan won’t cooperate with the US anymore in the fight against ISIS terrorism. As it happens, Trump has a call with King Abdullah of Jordan at 9:30am ET this morning.
Last night, Trump’s national security advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to discredit the story—saying the president did not disclose intelligence “sources” or “methods”—without actually refuting the Post’s most troubling claims.
“There’s nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The president and the foreign minister [Sergey Lavrov] reviewed a range of common threats to our two counties, including threats to civil aviation,” McMaster told reporters.
But it appears that Trump confirmed the story this morning on Twitter, echoing the defense that technically the president can declassify anything he wants, so even if he did tell the Russians classified information, it wasn’t a crime.
And yet, the White House is somehow claiming that Trump’s tweets aren’t an admission that he revealed classified intel to the Russians:
As The Atlantic points out, even Harry Truman didn’t know that the Manhattan Project was occurring while he was Vice President. He only learned about the mission to build an atomic bomb after he became President. There are all kinds of information that top-level people in the White House don’t even have access to, but the president of the United States is entitled to all of it.
It’s chilling to think that Donald Trump knows all of the nation’s secrets and can reveal them to American adversaries on a whim. But that’s the world we live in. A world where Donald J. Trump is president. Hard to believe.