Trump administration national security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke to the White House press corps Tuesday clarifying his short and poorly received statement Monday denying allegations made in a Washington Post article that the president revealed classified information in a conversation with the Russian ambassador.
McMaster reiterated that the article was completely false, and said the current focus should be the danger of leaks like that which sourced the Post article.
"I think the real issue -- and I think that I would like to see really debated more -- is our national security has been put at risk by those violating confidentiality and those releasing information to the press, that can be used and connected with other information available to make America citizens and other more vulnerable," McMaster stated.
Watch McMaster's entire briefing:
Transcript of the segment addressing the Washington Post story:
QUESTION: General McMaster, you came out to the stakeout area yesterday and in coming out to the stakeout area you said that the Washington Post story that came out late yesterday afternoon was false.
Do you stick by that assertion? Do you think that every element of that story is false? And do you have anything to correct in terms of what you said at the podium yesterday afternoon?
H.R. MCMASTER: No, I -- I stand by my statement that I made yesterday.
What I'm saying is really the premise of that article is false, that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in -- in national security.
And so I think the real issue, and I think what I'd like to see really debated more, is that our national security has been put at risk by those violating confidentiality, and those releasing information to the press that -- that could be used, connected with other information available, to make American citizens and others more vulnerable.
QUESTION: General, was classified information leaked?
General, was classified information leaked?
QUESTION: Thank you.
General, can you tell us if (inaudible) Prime Minister Netanyahu will join President Trump at the Western Wall?
And does the president believe that the Western Wall is part of Israel?MCMASTER: Part of his what? I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Part of Israel.
MCMASTER: No, the -- no Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall.
He's going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme to -- to connect with three of the world's great religions and to -- and to -- to advance -- to pay homage to each of these religious sites that he's visiting, but also to highlight the theme that we all have to be united against what are really the enemies of all civilized people, and that we have to be joined together in -- in a -- with an agenda of -- of tolerance and moderation.
QUESTION: General, I just want to try to dig into some details of this reporting on the president's conversations with the Russians.
Are you denying that he revealed information that was given to the U.S. by an intelligence partner?
MCMASTER: So, what I -- what we don't do is discuss what is and what -- what isn't classified.
What I will tell you, is in the context of that -- that -- that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and -- and any leaders with whom he's engaged.
QUESTION: But was it...
MCMASTER: And -- and...
QUESTION: ... you had received from an intelligence partner?
MCMASTER: I -- I'm not going to be the one to confirm -- the -- the -- confirm that, because that's sort of information that could -- that could jeopardize -- could jeopardize...
MCMASTER: ... our security.
QUESTION: ... U.S. allies that you have these types of intelligence-sharing relationships with the U.S. will stop providing that information?
MCMASTER: No, I'm not concerned at all.
The -- that -- that conversation was wholly appropriate to the conversation, and I think wholly appropriate what the expectations are of our intelligence partners.
QUESTION: If I can follow on that, General, have you reached out to foreign partners who might've contributed such information to the U.S. and talked to them about it, tried to reassure them? What's -- if so, what was their reaction?
MCMASTER: I -- I have not. And I'm not sure what conversations have been held about that.
SPICER: Carol (ph)?
QUESTION: The -- going back to what you were saying earlier, if there was nothing that the president shared that he shouldn't have shared, why does his national -- his counterterrorism adviser contact the NSA and the CIA about what he had said?
MCMASTER: Yeah, I -- I would -- I would say maybe it's from an overabundance of precaution, but I'm not sure. I mean, I -- I not -- I've not talked to -- to -- to Mr. Bossert about -- about that, about why he -- why he reached out.
QUESTION: But he was there, so what -- what...
QUESTION: Presumably you would understand why there was a reason to reach out.
MCMASTER: So, I -- I -- I was in the room, the secretary of state was in the room, as you know, the deputy assistant -- the deputy adviser for national security, Dina Powell, for strategy was in the room. And -- and none of us felt in any way that that conversation was inappropriate.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.
General, (inaudible), when was the decision made to share that information with the Russians? Did the president spontaneously on the spot decide to give that information over, or was there an interagency process or some kind of formal decision-making process in advance of that meeting with the Russians last week?
MCMASTER: Well, as -- as you know, the -- the president -- it is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That's what he did.
As to your question on had that information been shared previously, I'm not sure about that.
QUESTION: When -- when did he make that decision (inaudible)?
MCMASTER: When did he make the decision?
QUESTION: When did he make the decision to share the information...
MCMASTER: He made the decision in the context of -- of the conversation, which was wholly appropriate.
So, let's just -- I think one -- one -- I think it's worth recapping one thing here.
The president was meeting with -- with the foreign minister about -- about the terrorist threat. He'd also raised some difficult issues: what he -- what we expected in terms of different behavior from Russia in -- in key areas like -- like -- like Ukraine, and -- and as in Syria.
But then the president was emphasizing, "Hey, we have some common interests here. We have to work together in some critical areas." And we have an area -- we have a -- an area of cooperation with transnational terrorist organizations, ISIS in particular, an organization that had already taken down a Russian airliner and murdered over 200 people in October of 2015.
And so -- so -- so this was the -- the -- the context of the conversation in which it was wholly appropriate to share what the threat was as a basis for common action and coordination and cooperation.
QUESTION: (inaudible) in the moment, then, during the context of that conversation?
QUESTION: Excuse me (ph), I want to follow on first with Jennifer's question, which you didn't answer, about the Western Wall being part of Israel.
MCMASTER: Oh, that's -- that's -- that sounds like a policy decision for -- you know, and -- and -- and that's -- the president's intention --and I -- I did answer the question in terms of what his intention is, would he go with Israeli officials. The president's intention is to visit these religious sites, to highlight the need for unity among three of the world's great religions: unity in confronting a very grave threat to all civilization, and unity in embracing an agenda of -- of tolerance.
QUESTION: And my -- my second (ph) -- can I get to the question that I had, please?
Did the president reveal a city? And that -- I mean, the spin is that the president revealed the name of the city, and that gave away information that undermined an ally.MCMASTER: OK, I -- I will answer that.
OK, so, all of you are very familiar with the threat from ISIS. All of you are very familiar with the territory it controls. If you were to say, "Hey, from where do you think a threat might come from territory that ISIS controls?," you would probably be able to name a few cities, I would think.
And so it was -- it was nothing that you would not know from open source reporting in terms of a source of concern. And it had -- it had all to do with operations that are already ongoing, had been made public for months.
QUESTION: Sorry, back to my question, sir. Was this information that was shared with the Russians also the same content that was shared with our allies? And specific to the threat which the president says was in relation to airlines, is it an imminent threat? Was there a justification for in that moment needing to share it with the Russians?
MCMASTER: I don't want to get into specifics of what exactly information is shared with what exact allies, but information on this topic of the threat to aviation was shared with multiple allies. And as you know, there are already policies being put in place to protect against that threat. And you -- and you and many others have reported widely on this.
QUESTION: ... something that our allies did not? Is that what you are saying?
MCMASTER: In terms of the specifics, I can't -- I can't -- I have no basis for comparison on what was shared with what -- with what country. But I will tell you that it was our impression, of all of us, that were in the meeting -- I've mentioned already -- that what was shared was wholly appropriate, given the purpose of that conversation and the purpose of what the president was trying to achieve through that meeting.
QUESTION: General, when you came out after the story broke, you said that the president did not disclose any sources or methods. He did not reveal anything about military operations. Why were you denying things that were not even reported? What the report said is that the president revealed classified information that had been shared by one of our allies in the Middle East. So the question is simply a yes or no question here. Did the president share classified information with the Russians in that meeting?
MCMASTER: As I mentioned already, we don't say what's classified, what's not classified. What I will tell you again is that what the president shared was wholly appropriate. The story -- the story combined what was leaked with other information and then -- and the insinuated about sources and methods. So I wanted to make clear to everybody that the president in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation.
QUESTION: General, would you say, though, that national security has been put at risk by the leak of this? Do you have any idea how this got out? And what steps are you taking by virtue of discovering this, as you did, to try to limit the potential for any more leaks of national security information?
MCMASTER: I -- I think national security is put at risk by this leak and by leaks like this. And as you know, there are a number of instances where this has occurred. And I think it's important to investigate these sort of things and to make sure that we have trusted organizations across our government that -- that allows for the free sharing of information and collaboration.
I mean, in terms of national security, what is critical is that you can -- you can assemble the experts you need. You want a bigger group, right, for any of these complex problems because you need their expertise. You need the tools that they bring to bear from different agencies and departments.
And so what we really have to do is make sure we have a very high degree of confidence in all of our organizations and all of our systems and processes so we can do what we need to do for the president, which is give him our best advice and give him options to deal with these very complex problems.
QUESTION: Clearly, you can't have that confidence by virtue of what happened yesterday. So do you have an idea of how this got out? And how can you tighten up the ship, as it were, to ensure, from your perspective at least, that this stuff doesn't get out?
MCMASTER: Well, I think it's incumbent on all of us to bring in the people with the right authorities and the right mandate to take a look at how this leak occurred and how other breaches may have occurred as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
General McMaster, to put a finer point on this, is there now an active investigation into how this information was leaked? And can you tell us about who's running that investigation? And I'd also like to ask you, given that President Trump is now going to be meeting face to face with literally dozens of foreign leaders, if there are sensitivities to his discretion in what sort of information to decide to declassify? How is that something that you are advising him ahead of this foreign trip?
MCMASTER: Well, I mean, there -- there are no sensitivities in terms of me or anybody who's been with the president in many of these engagements. He share information in a way that is wholly appropriate. And I should just make -- I should just make maybe the statement here that the president wasn't even aware, you know, where this information came from. He wasn't briefed on the source or method of the information either.
So -- I'm sorry, this has got to be the last question because we do have the -- the president of Turkey coming I think momentarily.