Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.
Senators arriving at the Capitol Monday night to return to their normal business of confirming nominees and passing bills were once again confronted with and forced to respond another disaster unleashed by President Donald Trump. This time, it was news broken by the Washington Post that Trump revealed “highly classified information” to Russian government officials in their Oval office meeting last week.
Only a few Republican senators, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), came out strongly against the president’s actions, which reportedly included revealing foreign intelligence related to an ISIS threat that the U.S. was not authorized to share.
“We are in a downward spiral right now, and we’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Corker told reporters. The shame of it is that we have a really good national security team in place and there are productive things underway through them. The chaos being created by the lack of discipline is creating a worrisome environment.”
But other Republican lawmakers, including Sen. James Risch (R-ID), shrugged off concerns about divulging sensitive intelligence and offered a full-throated defense of Trump, telling reporters: “He has the ability to declassify anything at any time without any process. So it’s no longer classified the minute he utters it.”
Many Republican senators were hesitant to respond to the news, saying they had only just heard the story and had yet to verify if it was true. But pressed by reporters, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) agreed with Risch that “the president does have the right to do that, because he’s the commander in chief.” McCain added as he stepped into an elevator in the Capitol’s basement that “any president needs to be careful.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, offered a similar hedge, saying of the news: “If it’s true, it’d be troubling.”
Democrats, meanwhile, came out with guns blazing, pointing to the episode as yet another piece of evidence in favor of their demand for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s ties to the Russian government.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the news was “of the gravest possible concern.”
“It could harm our national security by cutting off important sources of intelligence that protect Americans against terrorist acts,” he said, noting that ally countries may fear in the future that the information they share with the Trump administration could be carelessly leaked.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said he hopes his Republicans colleagues absorb the seriousness of the news and take action before the next damaging report comes out.
“They need to know that this isn’t the last story,” he said. “They need to understand that the drip, drip, drip of connections between Trump and the Russian government is going to continue, and they had better get out in front of it with a special prosecutor rather than having to defend standing in way of a prosecutor over the next several weeks and months.”