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Washington • House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz says the reports that President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials should be probed but by the House Intelligence Committee, not his committee.
The Utah Republican, reacting to a Washington Post story that said Trump presented the Russian foreign minister and ambassador information that had not been shared with U.S. allies, said he still trusts the president with classified information and that Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, had denied there was sensitive information about sources and methods shared.
"It's hard to chase down something that's only based on anonymous sources," Chaffetz said. McMaster "said essentially no sources or methods were revealed. If it is a question about sources and methods, that's the one area that almost automatically goes to the House Intelligence Committee. It might be worth diving into but that would be the House Intelligence Committee. Our committee does not look into sources and methods."
Asked if he trusted Trump with classified intelligence, Chaffetz said: "Of course."
McMaster did not deny the thrust of the Post story on Trump in a statement, but said that "at no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed" that weren't public.
The Post reported, and other news outlets confirmed, that the information Trump discussed with the Russian officials was so sensitive it had been withheld from allies and tightly restricted within the U.S. intelligence community.
Chaffetz defended the president's meeting and noted that he believes it's quite common for U.S. officials to share intelligence with other countries.
"My sense of it is that has happened regularly with many international leaders," Chaffetz said. "It's not necessarily very often that you have the Russians in a meeting like that. But leaders talk about classified information on a regular basis."
But government officials, speaking anonymously to the Post, said this was a shocking departure from standard procedure when dealing with "code-word" intelligence. The U.S. government has a deal with five countries referred to as the "Five Eyes" with whom most intelligence is shared. This information apparently wasn't included in that agreement.
"Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn't grasp the gravity of the things he's dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security," a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials told the Post. "And it's all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia."
Chaffetz has faced criticism for not vigorously investigating Trump's administration given he has unilateral subpoena power as Oversight Committee chairman and launched several investigations into the former Obama administration. He said Monday that this issue wasn't in his purview.
"I think [the reports] raise some concerns but as I said at the beginning it's hard to chase that down if they're only going to report on anonymous sources," Chaffetz said. "That's the problem with this kind of reporting."
Asked if anonymous sources are more trustworthy than this White House sometimes, Chaffetz responded, "Maybe," but added that nobody has questioned the credibility of McMaster.
The White House pushed back immediately on the Post story, with McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell saying there was no wrongdoing.
"This story is false," Powell said. "The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."
The Post story did not say that the president shared sources and methods.
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.