During a White House news briefing on Friday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was asked to clarify what President Trump meant when he tweeted, shortly after a bombing on the London Underground that left more than 20 injured, that “[t]hese are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!”
Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
Since no information about the perpetrator or perpetrators of the bombing had yet been publicly released, Trump’s tweet left people wondering if he was alluding to intelligence information.
Trump’s comments were widely condemned by British officials, including Prime Minister Theresa May, who said it is “never helpful” for anyone to speculate on ongoing investigations.
On Friday, a reporter asked McMaster, “Did the president share information that he wasn’t supposed to, and if not, why was he speculating?”
McMaster responded by trying to spin Trump’s tweet as merely pointing out that major law enforcement agencies are concerned about terrorist attacks, which is not what Trump tweeted.
“I think what the president was communicating is, uh, is that obviously all of our law enforcement efforts are focused on this terrorist threat,” he said. “For years, Scotland Yard has been a leader as our FBI has been a leader, so I think if there was a terrorist attack here, God forbid, that we would say that they were in the sights of the FBI. So I think he didn’t mean anything beyond that.”
Not satisfied with that answer, the reporter again asked McMaster to clarify.
“Meaning, he was saying generally, terrorists are a focus for Scotland Yard? Or was he saying in this specific incident, Scotland Yard knew potentially this was coming?” the reporter asked.
McMaster’s response did not make much sense.
“I think he means generally that this kind of activity is what we’re trying to prevent, and so these organizations that are responsible for it, whatever comes out of this investigation — that remains to be seen — it is likely that law enforcement had been working on that problem set.”
If Trump was indeed alluding to intelligence information in his tweet, it wouldn’t be the first time. In May, Trump created an international scandal when he decided to share highly sensitive counterintelligence information with Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting.
In that case, the information Trump shared with the Russians about an ISIS plot to use an explosive tucked inside a laptop computer to bring down a U.S.-bound airplane was quickly traced back to an Israeli source. During a news conference, McMaster attempted to do damage control. He didn’t deny that Trump shared classified information with the Russians, but said Trump “wasn’t even aware of where that information came from.”
In response to that controversy, Trump took to Twitter to point out that as president, he has “the absolute right” to share whatever intelligence he wants to with foreign agents.