Does Trump intel sharing risk damaging US alliances?

Posted at 6:22 PM, May 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-16 18:22:18-04

President Donald Trump's sharing of highly classified informationto senior Russian officials could cause "heartburn" for key U.S. allies wary to share further intelligence, suggests Peter Wielhower, a political science professor at Western Michigan University.

The information Trump revealed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak centered on an Islamic State plot and was based on intelligence provided by an American partner, the Washington Post first reported Monday evening.

The disclosure — which Trump appeared to verify in a pair of tweets Tuesday morning — could prove to be a distraction as the president embarks Friday on his first overseas trip as president, Wielhower said.

While Trump is expected to be warmly received by Arab allies in Saudi Arabia, who welcomed his decision to launch missiles against a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack, some European partners Trump will meet later in his trip have been more skeptical about his policies.

Western allies, including Britain and Germany, have also been wary of Trump’s warmness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was kicked out of the summit of leading economic powers after Moscow’s annexation of territory from Ukraine.

Some of the leaders Trump will meet come from countries the U.S. has intelligence-sharing agreements with.

"If he’s ... not really handling the information flows in a way that’s expected by other governments and politicians, this is going to create some heartburn, inconsistencies and unpredictability in the way people are going to receive his information," Wielhower said.

Trump declared on Twitter Tuesday that it was his “absolute right” to share information with other countries. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said it was “wholly appropriate” and argued that it was based on publicly available information. And indeed, presidents are legally authorized to disclose classified information.

Revelations that Trump revealed highly classified information to senior Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week prompted one European official to tell The Associated Press that his country might stop sharing intelligence with the U.S. as a result.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said Trump’s actions send “a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future.”

Wielhower said the long-term political cost of fewer sources willing to share vital intelligence could create unwanted gaps in national security.

“If that stream dries up then we’re faced with a more difficult situation because then our allies aren’t sharing the information that we need to effectively promote our own security," he said.

"The lack of that information on an ongoing basis hinders our ability to consistently monitor our enemies, such as ISIS."

Among West Michigan's congressional leaders, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade, called on the administration to “promptly” share with Congress the details of President Trump's meeting with Russian officials.

Amash's GOP colleague, U.S. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, called the news "very, very troubling," during a Tuesday interview with WHTC radio.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, declined to comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.