The New York Times reported new details on Monday on the sensitive and classified information about allied intelligence on ISIS that President Donald Trump is alleged to have revealed in his Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials last month. According to the Times’ reporting, Trump told the Russians about a successful Israeli cyberbreach of the terrorist group that had uncovered plans to blow up planes with bombs that could fool airport security.
Several paragraphs into a story on the difficulties of American cyberwarfare operations against ISIS, the Times reported:
Top Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a small cell of extremist bombmakers in Syria months ago, [American] officials said. That was how the United States learned that the terrorist group was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers.
The intelligence was so exquisite that it enabled the United States to understand how the weapons could be detonated, according to two American officials familiar with the operation. The information helped prompt a ban in March on large electronic devices in carry-on luggage on flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries to the United States and Britain.
It was also part of the classified intelligence that President Trump is accused of revealing when he met in the Oval Office last month with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. His disclosure infuriated Israeli officials.
Russia is close with Iran, one of Israel’s top adversaries, which is part of the reported reason why the release of this information has apparently upset Israeli intelligence officials.
Republicans in Congress have shown little interest in investigating the episode. I spoke with Rep. Darrell Issa—a member of the House Oversight Committee—after a town hall in Orange County, California, on June 3, and the congressman told me that the matter was “settled.” Here is that entire exchange.
Slate: In regards to President Trump and Russia, is it appropriate to be holding meetings in the Oval Office with the ambassador, the foreign minister, and then reportedly revealing information about allies’ classified information?
Issa: That’s been well-covered.
Slate: Is that appropriate?
Issa: It’s been well-covered publicly that the president has a right to do what is alleged. And that his conduct in that meeting is not outside what our national security adviser [H.R. McMaster] said would happen.
Slate: Do you agree that is a good thing to do?
Issa: You don’t get to ask just any question like that, let me explain to you why I’m not going to agree or disagree ‘was it a good thing to do.’ I wasn’t in the meeting. Almost all of this is hearsay, I don’t know what was revealed or not revealed. I don’t know whether it actually included allies or not allies. So can I say if something’s good or bad based on hearsay, or hearsay where the only corroboration that I have is a trusted former general, [McMaster], who’s well-regarded [and] said nothing untoward happened? So the answer is nothing untoward happened, that’s where we are and the rest of it is conjecture.
Slate: It feels like what the Russians got in that meeting, you should certainly be able to get [as a member of the Oversight Committee]. … You’re saying that all you have are these unverified reports. Have you sought this information, will you seek this information, do you want this information?
Issa: It’s a wonderful, complex question. I am inquisitive to the extreme, so of course I’d like to know all kinds of things. Is this the greatest concern going after it’s been looked into and settled by every committee and every member?
Slate: What [was it that] happened [in that meeting] if it’s been settled?
Issa: Committees have looked at it. So that answers your question.
I asked Issa’s communications director, Calvin Moore, to clarify to which committees the congressman was referring. Here was his response:
It should … go without saying that just because the President has the authority to declassify information doesn’t mean that its always prudent to do so, and [it’s] the job of the committees and members of Congress to seek this information and find out whether it was, which is what I believe [Issa] was trying to convey to you here.
Democrats in Congress have sought this information and been stymied.
When the story first broke, the ranking minority Democrats on the Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee—both committees on which Issa sits—requested information about what happened at the meeting. “Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives need a briefing from the National Security Adviser and the directors of our nation’s intelligence agencies to get to the bottom of these allegations, and if there are audio recordings of this meeting, Congress needs to obtain them immediately,” Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and John Conyers said in a statement at the time.
The ranking members in question did not receive a response from the White House, according to multiple congressional staffers. This would be in line with official executive branch policy toward oversight requests from minority members: Ignore all of them.
“No, it’s not a settled matter and no our committee has not gotten any information and our committee hasn’t looked into this or anything else,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a member of the judiciary committee from New York, told me on Tuesday of that committee’s oversight of the administration. “The Republicans are stonewalling. They have no interest in this and they’ve made that very clear.”
He repeated: “No, this is not settled. We don’t know what was said at that meeting. We don’t know what the secret information was. We’ve heard reports in the press, but we don’t know that for a fact and we ought to.”
Staff from the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation from both parties each declined to comment on whether or not this information had been sought. A staffer in the office of Rep. Mike Conaway—who has been leading the committee’s Russia probe—said last week that they were not “able to comment on any specifics as this is an ongoing investigation.”
Multiple emails to Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s office requesting comment last week did not receive a response. As of publication time, an email to the office of the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, requesting comment had also not received a response.
Members of President Trump’s campaign are reportedly being investigated regarding their ties to Russia and whether or not they may have colluded in any way to help that country commit a cyberattack against the United States to try to influence the 2016 election.
Last week, James Comey testified that before he was fired by Trump, he felt pressure from the president to drop part of this investigation. The former FBI director also said that he believes he was fired because of the Russia investigation. Trump has also said that he fired Comey at least in part because of the Russia investigation, a point Comey repeatedly made in his testimony.