President Trump said Monday that he never mentioned Israel during an Oval Office meeting when he disclosed highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats.
“I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned during that conversation,” Trump said in Jerusalem during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“They’re all saying I did, so you have another story wrong,” he continued. “Never mentioned the word Israel.”
Netanyahu said during the meeting with Trump that “intelligence cooperation is terrific” with the United States.
“It’s never been better,” he added.
Trump reportedly shared sensitive intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office earlier this month. The intelligence was about an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) plot involving explosive devices in laptops carried on commercial airplanes.
The information was reportedly gathered by a spy embedded within the terrorist group that was working on behalf of Israel, although U.S. and Israeli authorities have neither confirmed nor denied the source was linked to Israel.
Reports about the meting have not claimed the Trump explicitly mentioned Israel as the source of the intelligence.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was in the room, said last week Trump “wasn’t even aware of where this information came from” because “he wasn’t briefed on the source.”
Trump’s Monday comments revived a story that cast a cloud over Trump’s two-day visit to Israel, a key part of his nine-day first foreign trip as president.
The May 10 incident raised doubts about Trump’s ability to properly handle sensitive intelligence and caused friction with Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Israeli intelligence officials reportedly vented their anger at their American counterparts that the disclosure may have jeopardized an important source of information.
Trump did not discuss specific sources and methods with the Russian officials, according to The Washington Post. But he reportedly revealed enough information that could have allowed Moscow to independently discover the source.
The president and his aides had hoped the foreign trip would take attention away from scandals back home and place them on Trump’s foreign policy agenda.
Trump is meeting with Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during the two-day visit in an attempt to accelerate peace talks, which he has called the “ultimate deal.”
He’s also using the region’s holy sites as a backdrop for his call to step up the fight against terrorism. Fresh off a stop in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall — the holiest place where Jews can pray — and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace,” Trump said upon his arrival Monday morning. “But we can only get there working together.”