White House denies public scene at Mar-a-Lago posed security risk

The White House is facing questions about whether President Trump discussed sensitive national security information in a public setting.  

Late Saturday night, President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the latest North Korean missile test.

Images were posted on social media showing the world leaders just moments before that statement having dinner in a public dining room at Mar-a-Lago. In one you can see Mr. Trump on a cell phone; another shows Mr. Trump and the Japanese prime minister reading information by camera light. The White House says the two leaders were discussing a press conference about the test.

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Richard DeAgazio

The president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn can be seen hovering just above him.

Mar-a-Lago club member Richard DeAgazio posted some of his photos on Facebook, writing: “HOLY MOLY !!!” and “Wow.....the center of the action!!!” in response to the leaders appearing to make national security decisions in plain view.

The White House is denying that what the president did posed a security risk. But multiple former national security officials disagree after seeing some of the photographs, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues.

In a statement, the White House said that’s not what happened, insisting that the president was briefed on the North Korea situation in a classified setting both before and after the dinner.

But Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, called what they saw in the photographs a security risk.

“He never should have had such a sensitive discussion in a such a public place,” Schumer said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi posted this message on Twitter: “There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.”

“Even if the information being discussed was not technically classified information, these types of conversations are still sensitive,” said Carrie Cordero, former national security lawyer for the Justice Department.

Cordero believes foreign intelligence services can learn a lot from these photographs.

“If foreign services are paying attention, and I am sure that they are, they are paying attention to all of the individuals who potentially have access, all the types of devices that are there and they are going to think about how they can exploit that in the future,” Cordero said.

In the past, even when they travel, presidents have used mobile secure communications facilities to discuss sensitive matters. Just last year, then-President Obama was photographed inside a trailer in Havana with his National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Former President George W. Bush also had a trailer set up at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.