Sen. Susan Collins joined Maine colleague Sen. Angus King in criticizing President Trump on Tuesday for sharing classified information with Russian officials at the White House last week, offering a sharp rebuke of the president’s actions.

Collins – who did not endorse Trump during his presidential campaign – said the foreign policy goals of Russia and the U.S. are not aligned and often are at odds, making any security breach a potential threat to American interests.

“It will also make our ally who provided the highly classified information to us more reluctant to do so in the future,” Collins told the Press Herald in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “It could have a negative impact on our national security.”

The Washington Post first reported Monday, in a story attributed to government officials, that Trump had revealed classified information to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador during the White House meeting. The information had been shared with the United States by an intelligence partner later identified as Israel and pertained to an Islamic State plot, numerous reports said. The information was described as highly classified and sensitive.

Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, insisted Tuesday that Trump’s revelations to Russian officials about the terrorist threat from the Islamic State group were “wholly appropriate” and amounted to a routine sharing of information. He noted that Trump did not share intelligence sources or methods.

Both Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent, are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Russia is believed to have attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In a series of tweets Tuesday morning, Trump, who has done business in Russia, defended his right to share information with Russian officials.

He tweeted, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Collins, however, questioned Trump’s decision to reveal the information.

“Legally, he does, but that doesn’t mean it’s wise to disclose such sensitive information, particularly to an adversary like the Russians,” she said.

Collins said the disclosure could compromise U.S. intelligence-gathering activities, and she said Trump should not be hosting the Russian officials at the White House.

“The Russian leaders are not our friends. They’re our adversaries. I am troubled that the president during this very contentious time is meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at the White House,” Collins said. “Given what we already know about (Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election), those meetings should not be taking place.”

Collins said reports of the disclosures are “extremely serious” and have “the potential to place the source of that information in jeopardy.”

“I believe the Senate Intelligence Committee should be briefed on this matter as soon as possible,” Collins said.

King told the Press Herald that Trump appeared to have “blurted out” classified information without carefully “weighing the pros and cons.” “It’s very troubling. This is the highest level of classification. It’s above top secret,” King said.

King said the episode “doesn’t do anything to help the credibility of the White House.”

“It was not in the best interests of our country,” he said.

Brian Duff, a political science professor at the University of New England, said that Collins’ comments are a “clear condemnation” of Trump’s actions and among the strongest by Republican politicians.

Duff said Tuesday was an opportunity for Collins to show her independent streak and counteract some of the publicity she has received for supporting Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director last week.

“This was a chance for her to clearly show that she is still keeping a critical eye on Trump. And I think these events profoundly disturb her in a way that the firing of the FBI director did not,” Duff said.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said Trump has been treating Russia “like a completely dependable and friendly ally. He’s picking fights with our allies and cozying up to our enemies.”

She said the decision to give Russian officials classified information was “at best idiotic and at worst dangerous and un-American.”

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying there’s not enough information to draw conclusions.

“It is critical to safeguard our nation’s classified information, and any violation of that by an administration is extremely concerning. Right now we have insufficient information on what really did, or did not, happen,” Poliquin said.

Trump administration officials spent Tuesday defending the president.

According to The Associated Press, McMaster, in a White House briefing, said: “In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he is engaged.”

He cast some of Trump’s revelations as information that was available from publicly available “open-source reporting” and added that the president did not know the precise source of the intelligence he had shared, suggesting that Trump could not have compromised confidential sources, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee continues to investigate possible ties between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Collins said she and other senators on the committee have gone to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to pore over classified documents, the “raw intelligence” on the topic.

“I have no doubt, based on the facts and the evidence, that the Russians did try to influence the presidential election last fall. I’m not saying they succeeded in altering the outcome,” Collins said. “But there’s no doubt they had a sophisticated disinformation campaign.”

Collins said it’s too soon to determine if the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign.

“I’m going to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” she said. “It’s an overstatement to say there were allegiances. We may ultimately have evidence of that, but we do not yet have evidence of that.”

Collins said she wants to see an analysis by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about whether an independent counsel is needed for an investigation into possible ties with Russia. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigation regarding possible ties to Russia, citing conflicts stemming from the election.

Trump has said in media interviews that he fired Comey in part because of the FBI investigation into the possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

Comey’s firing by Trump touched off a political firestorm, including calls by Democrats to create a bipartisan independent commission to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

Pingree said such a commission would not have a conflict like the attorney general’s office, which is part of the executive branch under Trump.

“The president seems to have an incident nearly every day,” Pingree said. “Each one, in a sense, seems to lead back to Russia. Each one raises the stakes.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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