JERUSALEM — President Trump insisted Monday that he never divulged Israel was the source of highly classified intelligence about a terror plot when he spoke to Russian diplomats this month, as U.S. and Israeli officials tried to tamp down the controversy that has dogged him at home.
"Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned during that conversation," Trump said of his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kisylak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
"They're all saying I did, so you have another story wrong," he told reporters. "Never mentioned the word Israel."
The Washington Post reported last week that Trump disclosed details of an Islamic State threat related to using laptop computers on aircraft to the Russian diplomats during their May 10 meeting, held just one day after firing FBI Director James Comey. The Post report did not say that Trump identified the source of the information directly. But anonymous officials said that by revealing the city in the Islamic State's territory — where a U.S. partner had detected the threat — Russia could deduce secret sources and methods of intelligence gathering, and damage a critical source of intelligence on the terror group.
Yet Trump's remarks at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also seemed to implicitly confirm later reports that Israel was the partner country that provided the intelligence.
Trump's comments marked the first time during his foreign trip that he's been forced to address the swirling controversy back home, and came in response to a broader question about whether Netanyahu had any concerns about intelligence cooperation with the U.S.
For his part, Netanyahu downplayed the incident. "Intelligence cooperation is terrific. It's never been better," he said.
Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump did not plan to apologize to Netanyahu during their private meeting.
“I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for," he said. “To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”