The White House was swamped by another major story on Monday evening, as the Washington Post and several other news organizations reported that President Trump had revealed highly classified material about the Islamic State, during an Oval Office meeting last week with top Russian officials, a charge that was rejected by top aides to the President.
But while administration officials denied the story, other news organizations said they had confirmed the basics, as the Trump White House was plunged once more into crisis mode.
Let’s break down what we know – and don’t – about this story:
1. What exactly did the Post – and other news organizations report? The Post story said the President disclosed intelligence to top Russian officials at a meeting last week in the Oval Office which could jeopardize a critical intelligence source about the Islamic State. The New York Times matched the story soon after, as did Reuters, which said the intelligence was about a planned operation by the Islamic State.
2. The White House denies the story – but some see a non-denial denial. There were three official denials from the Trump Administration. A White House spokeswoman flat out said the Post story was “false.” Statements were also issued by Secretary of State Tillerson, and by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. The McMaster statement was notable, because some said it denied things that were not included in the Washington Post story. “I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” the General said outside the West Wing to reporters.
3. The Post says officials asked them to withhold details. One hint that this story is grounded in fact is that Washington Post reporters say they are withholding key details of what’s at issue – at the request of intelligence officials. Most people not in journalism probably have no idea that this happens frequently when it comes to a big story that a paper like the Post or the New York Times prints on something dealing with intelligence matters. It is done as officials acknowledge a story, but seek to keep certain details out public view. And the Post said that was true this time as well.
4. The story touches off a new round of White House leaks. You don’t have to be a news media insider to notice another batch of leaks emanating from the Trump White House after this story broke. There were daggers thrown at Press Secretary Sean Spicer by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. “Basically chaos at all times,” one White House official told Politico. It was obvious to reporters at the White House that there was internal discord over the story and how it was being handled – which may spur even more finger pointing.
5. Trump supporters see nothing but fake news. I was in my car when the news broke on this story, so I posted a link to the Washington Post story on my Facebook page. My Facebook page nearly melted. “Yet another fake news story. Jamie Dupree I’m surprised at you,” said one. “Fake news! Why do you continue to make a fool out of yourself repeating this BS,” added another. “Washington Post not long ago broke that the Russians hacked the Burlington power grid,” as others piled on the news media in general.
6. Rumblings from Republicans in Congress. It has been a stressful last week for GOP lawmakers, watching the White House struggle with the aftermath of the firing of the FBI Director – which caught Republicans off guard – and then the President on Friday seemingly suggesting that he might have recorded a dinner conversation with James Comey. That was more than enough to deal with – but then, Senators arrived for their first vote of the week just as the story about this intelligence story was breaking. “The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who said the White House was in a “downward spiral.”