The U.S. Senate's top Democrat called on the White House on Tuesday to provide a transcript of President Donald Trump's meeting last week with Russian officials, in which the president himself has acknowledged sharing sensitive intelligence.
The president took to Twitter early Tuesday, asserting he has "the absolute right" to share intelligence with Russia for humanitarian reasons and to pressure Moscow to "step up their fight" against Islamic State. The tweets did not reassure the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia.
"No, I'm not satisfied," he said. He said there were "a whole host of issues" raised by the president's actions, both legal and strategic — including the reaction of allies and the need for maintaining the trust of the U.S. intelligence community.
Trump's tweets seemingly undercut assurances by senior White House officials about the scope of what the president revealed to the Russians, not to mention a denial from Moscow that Trump had shared secret information at all. In a White House briefing Tuesday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that Trump's disclosure to the Russians was "wholly appropriate" and based on open-source reporting.
Declining to comment
With indisputable facts in short supply, many Republican lawmakers, like Senator John Cornyn of Texas, were declining to comment.
"I, of course, don't know the facts," he said. "So I really don't feel comfortable expressing a view until I know what the facts are."
If facts are in dispute, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put forward a solution.
"I am calling on the White House to make the transcript of the meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador available to the congressional intelligence committees as soon as possible," the New York Democrat said. "And if the president has nothing to hide, he should direct that the transcript of the meeting be made available."
Although not joining Schumer in demanding White House transcripts, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said more information was needed.
"We'll have to try to learn a lot more about it," he said. "But it's a serious concern, and we have to know who it is he [Trump] may have unmasked by giving that information [to Russia]."
By "unmasking," McCain was referring to identifying the source of the intelligence Trump shared with Russia, reported to be so sensitive that the information had not been revealed to close U.S. allies. Asked what was at stake with the president's action, McCain replied, "The cooperation of our allies."
Comparison with Clinton case
McCain's concerns aside, Democrats like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were taking note of the largely muted Republican response so far — and comparing it with the GOP pronouncements about Democrat Hillary Clinton's handling of emails as secretary of state.
"It [Republican reaction] is a little bit different than when the completely harmless but technically classified emails of Hillary [Clinton] were the issue," he said. "Then, you had people chanting, 'Lock her up.' Now that he [Trump] has actually revealed genuinely dangerous secret information to the Russians, of all people, there's a new tune in town [from Republicans]."
In daily floor remarks Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, did not mention the latest Trump controversy, focusing his remarks on health care instead.