Oct 13, 2019

McMaster wasn't aware of White House's foreign call "lockdowns"

HR McMaster

H.R. McMaster. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Three former administration officials tell Axios that former national security adviser H.R. McMaster did not authorize and was not aware of the "locking down" of transcripts of conversations between President Trump and foreign leaders that were politically damaging but didn't pose national security risks.

Why it matters: Congressional investigators want to learn how, when and at whose direction transcripts were moved out of the typical computer system and into a classified system meant for highly sensitive security matters.

  • That process was described in the whistleblower's complaint about the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky.

Details: Early reports suggested the practice might date to McMaster's tenure (February 2017–April 2018).

  • After calls between Trump and leaders of Mexico and Australia were leaked in 2017, the National Security Council did tighten a once-larger circle of staff and interagency officials who got access to foreign leader call transcripts by default, two of the former officials said. But that's not the same as whisking transcripts away to a classified system.
  • It's also true that another document — memorializing a conversation in 2017 in which Trump disclosed classified information to the Russians about ISIS and intelligence from another country — was later deemed highly sensitive and the details restricted.
    • One person familiar with the matter said that move wasn't about trying to protect Trump politically — the concern was protecting intelligence and a U.S. ally. Because the information was classified at one of the higher levels, it necessitated the move to the special system.

The bottom line: If McMaster was not involved in the practice, it raises questions about whether it began under his successor John Bolton or was happening for a longer duration at the direction of officials working around the national security adviser.

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