The White House has strongly pushed back against a report that the U.S. removed one its highest-level spies from inside the Russian government in 2017, partially over concerns that “President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.“
The report, published Monday by CNN, cited multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge of the spy’s removal.
The decision to extract the spy allegedly followed a May 2017 Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. During that meeting, Trump reportedly shared highly-classified intelligence concerning ISIS in Syria, which had been provided by Israel.
Although not about the spy specifically, CNN reported that Trump's revelation to the Russians spurred intelligence officials to pick up earlier discussions about the potential risk of the spy's exposure, according to a source involved in the matter.
At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo allegedly warned senior administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source.
CNN did not identify the spy or reveal any specific information about the asset in order to limit the risk of the person's identifications. The White House and CIA both disputed the report.
"CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false," CIA Director for Public Affairs Brittany Bramell said in a statement to CNN. "Misguided speculation that the President's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence — which he has access to each and every day — drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNN that its "reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger."
Trump was informed in advance of the extraction, along with a small number of senior officials, according to CNN. The news outlet said details of the removal remain secret, and it does not know the whereabouts of the covert source.
The removal of the spy is an "extraordinary remedy taken when U.S. intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger," CNN wrote. The decision to pull the covert source "poses risks to the safety of anyone a foreign government suspects may be involved," the news outlet added, citing an unnamed U.S. official.
The removal of the spy caused the U.S. to lose one of its key sources of information into Russian President Vladimir Putin amid escalated tensions between the U.S. and Moscow, sources told CNN. The U.S. reportedly has "no equal alternative" insight and information on the Russian government and the Kremlin, the news outlet added.