National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster faced the press Tuesday afternoon in hopes of quieting the storm caused by a Washington Post report that the president had shared classified information with two top Russian officials during a visit to the Oval Office last week.
He might have made things worse.
Asked a direct question as to whether Trump discussed classified information with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak, McMaster dodged.
“We don’t say what’s classified and what’s not classified,” he said. “What the president shared was wholly appropriate.”
McMaster continued his defense of Trump. “I should just make the statement here that the president wasn’t even aware of where the information came from,” he said. “He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.”
The defense of Trump is that he didn’t really know the source of the report and, therefore, couldn’t have possibly told the Russians more than he should? The opposite end of that defense is this: Trump was talking to two top officials of an adversarial power about highly protected information without having been briefed fully on that information.
Which creates this choice: Either Trump was talking about a topic he knew about – and knew he needed to be careful as to what he could say – or he was freelancing with a piece of information he didn’t really know the full story on.
For his part, Trump offered little clarity on the meeting although he did nothing to dispute the basic facts reported by the Post and CNN among others.
“We had a very successful meeting with the foreign minister of Russia,” Trump said at an appearance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday afternoon. Trump added: “We had a great meeting with the foreign ministers. We’re going to have a lot of great success over the next coming years.”
Well that’s that then!
Much like what happened last week with the aftermath of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the White House’s inability to stick to a single story regarding what Trump actually told (or didn’t tell) the Russians is making the situation far worse.
If Trump hadn’t been fully briefed on the information and its source, then why was he talking about it in the Oval Office with a country that has been a bad actor on the world stage – and that we know actively worked to sway the 2016 election?
McMaster is, without question, one of the Trump advisers given the widest berth by Democratic and Republican members of Congress. In the wake of his comments on Tuesday afternoon, several Republican senators made clear that he had their trust.
“I take General McMaster at his word,” Arizona Sen. John McCain told CNN’s Jeremy Herb.
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe echoed that sentiment in a conversation with Herb. “I think McMaster is right,” said Inhofe. “He’s never been wrong before. He’s had a distinguished career, he knows the situation, he was there. I tend to believe him as opposed to some anonymous.”
But McMaster’s explanation of what Trump knew and what he said neither disputes the Post and CNN reporting nor makes it totally obvious that Trump knew what he was talking about with Lavrov and Kisylak.
In short: McMaster’s attempt to put this fire out managed to only spray more lighter fluid on it.