Politics

Trump Didn't Break The Law By Sharing Intel With Russia

| by Michael Howard

President Donald Trump's reported disclosure of classified intelligence to Russian officials was not illegal under U.S. law.

On May 15 The Washington Post reported that Trump shared highly classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his May 10 visit to the White House.

Trump spoke with Lavrov about ISIS-related information that had been obtained through a highly confidential "intelligence-sharing arrangement," according to The Washington Post. The source of the information reportedly had not given the U.S. permission to relay the intelligence to Russia.

Elaborating on the story, CNN indicated that the information had to do with an ISIS plot to make bombs out of laptops and bring them onto airplanes.

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In response to the allegations, the White House released a series of statements denying any wrongdoing.

"The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation," National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said. "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly."

The president defended himself on Twitter, writing: "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."

And while a former U.S. official said Trump's disclosure to the Russians was "shocking," it appears the president was within the law.

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The New York Daily News reports that, as commander in chief, Trump has the authority classify or declassify any information he wants.

In 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the president's "authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security [comes] primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant."

This authority does not extend beyond the presidency. If any other government official shared classified intelligence the way Trump did, they would be violating the Espionage Act, which prohibits the willful disclosure of any information that could jeopardize national security or assist a foreign power at the expense of the U.S.

"The classification god in the American political system is the president," former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden said in March, shortly after Trump publicly accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his phone lines. "So when the president decides to tweet something and make it public, it is in that action no longer classified."

Sources: The Washington Post, CNN, New York Daily News / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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