An audio recording of former President Donald J. Trump in 2021 discussing a supposedly “highly confidential” document about Iran that he acknowledged he could not release because he was not in office seems to contradict his recent claim that the material what he was referring to were simply newspaper clippings.
Portions of a transcript of Mr. Trump’s two-minute recording were cited by federal prosecutors in the indictment against Mr. Trump on charges that he compromised national security secrets by mishandling classified documents after his term in office and subsequently undermining the efforts of hindering the government from collecting them.
The recording captured his conversation in July 2021 with a publisher and writer working on a memoir of Mr Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows. In it, Mr. Trump discussed what he described as a “secret” plan regarding Iran, drawn up by General Mark A. Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Department of Defense. Mr. Trump cited the document to counter a statement Gen. Milley feared was intended to dissuade him from creating a crisis with Iran in the period after Mr. Trump lost his re-election bid in late 2020.
The audio, which will likely serve as evidence in Mr Trump’s trial in the documents case, was first publicly played by NewsMadura on Monday and was also obtained by NewsMadura.
Last week, in an interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Mr. Trump insisted he was not presenting classified material at the meeting, which was taped at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, NJ. Mr Trump said he was not referring to all “secret” or “highly confidential” documents, but rather referred to “newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles”.
But the audio recording of the entire encounter suggests that Mr. Trump was not referring to second-hand bills, but instead to a specific piece of paper or papers in front of him.
At the Bedminster meeting, Mr Trump was present with those working on an autobiography of Mr Meadows, as well as at least two of Mr Trump’s own aides. Mr. Trump appears to be swinging or referring to what he described to his visitors as a document — described in the indictment as a “plan of attack” — apparently to refute a story that appeared in NewsMadura a week earlier. Yorker had been published. detailing Gen. Milley’s concern that Mr. Trump could launch an attack against Iranian interests that he could use to create a justification to remain in office.
“Isn’t it great?” says Trump, flipping through what he calls “a big stack of papers,” which he can be heard handling on the recording.
“This thing just came up,” says Mr. Trump, adding, “This was him. This was the Department of Defense and him.”
“Wow,” you hear a woman say in the room, followed by a rustle of papers.
“Let’s see,” says Mr. Trump, adding, “Look.” There is a short pause, during which he appears to be showing the people in the room something, and they begin to laugh.
“This totally wins my case, you know,” he says, adding that the papers were “highly confidential, classified. This is classified information.”
“Isn’t that incredible?” Mr. Trump later says, adding, “This was done by the military and given to me.”
Then he seems to be leaning on a suggestion for the book writers. “I think we probably can, right?” says Mr. Trump. A woman replies, “I don’t know, we’ll have to see, you know, we’ll have to try a…”
“Declassify it,” Trump says. “Look, as president I could have declassified it, but now I can’t.”
“Now we have a problem,” the woman laughs.
“It’s so cool,” Mr. Trump says, finally calling someone to get Coca-Cola to drink.
In a statement, Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr Trump, avoided commenting on most of the content of the recording related to the candidate’s discussion of sensitive material and instead focused on a joke Mr Trump made during the meeting on former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner’s role in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
“The tape provides context that once again shows that President Trump has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Mr Cheung said, adding that Mr Trump “talked rhetorically and also quite humorously about” Mr. Weiner, accusing “the media and the Trump- haters” of taking “the bait”.
Some of Mr. Trump’s lawyers have known about the recording since March, when one of the aides who attended the rally, Margo Martin, was asked about it during a grand jury appearance, according to a person familiar with the events. Investigators working under Special Prosecutor Jack Smith subpoenaed her copy of the tape after that performance.
The full clip undermines the arguments of some of Trump’s allies that he was simply spouting and exaggerating or mischaracterizing the material he described in the recording.
The indictment charges Mr. Trump with illegally holding 31 individual national security documents and conspiring with one of his personal aides, Walt Nauta, to obstruct the administration’s repeated attempts to recover the documents.
Mr. Nauta will be arraigned in Federal District Court in Miami on Tuesday. As part of the terms of Mr Trump’s release from his own indictment, he was ordered not to discuss the case with Mr Nauta or with a list of 84 witnesses who participated in the Special Prosecutor’s investigation.