An audio recording of former President Donald J. Trump in 2021 discussing what he called a « highly classified » document on Iran that he acknowledged he could not declassify because it was out of office appears to contradict his recent claim that the material 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 of Mr. Trump on charges he put national security secrets at risk by improperly handling confidential documents after he left the office and thus hampering government efforts to recover them.
The recording captured her conversation in July 2021 with an editor and writer working on a memoir by Trump’s late chief of staff, Mark Meadows. In it, Trump discussed what he described as a « secret » plan on Iran drawn up by General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense. Mr. Trump was citing the document to refute an account that General Milley feared he had to prevent him from creating a crisis with Iran in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s loss of re-election bid in late 2020.
The audio, which will likely be used as evidence in Trump’s trial in the documents case, was played publicly for the first time on Monday from CNN and was also obtained by the New York Times.
Last week, in an interview with Fox News anchor 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, New Jersey , Mr. Trump said he wasn’t referring to any « secret » or « highly classified » documents, but rather were « newspaper stories, articles and magazine articles. »
But the audio recording of the entire meeting suggests that Mr. Trump was not referring to secondhand accounts, but rather to a specific sheet or sheets of paper in front of him.
Joining Trump at the meeting in Bedminster were those working on an autobiography by Mr. Meadows and at least two of Trump’s own aides. Mr. Trump, in his own narrative, appears to be brandishing or pointing at what he has described to his visitors as a document – described in the indictment as a « plan of attack » – ostensibly to refute a history published a week earlier in The New Yorker detailing General Milley’s concern that Mr. Trump might launch a strike against Iranian interests that he could use to create a justification for staying in office.
« Isn’t that amazing? » Trump says as he thumbs through what he calls « a big pile of papers, » which can be heard as he handles during the recording.
“This thing just came up,” Trump says, adding, “This was him. This was the Department of Defense and him.
“Wow,” a woman is heard in the room, followed by a rustle of papers.
« Let’s see here, » Trump says, adding, « Look. » There’s a short pause, during which he seems to be showing something to the people in the room, and they start laughing.
« This totally wins my case, you know, » he says, adding that the documents were « highly confidential, secret. This is classified information. »
« Isn’t that amazing? » Mr. Trump says later, adding, « This was done by the military and given to me. »
So it seems to be leaning into a tip for the book’s authors. « 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 to figure out a… »
“Declassify it,” Trump says. « You see, as president I could have declassified him, but I can’t now. »
« Now we have a problem, » the woman laughs.
« It’s so good, » says Mr. Trump, finally asking someone to bring Coke to drink.
Some of Trump’s attorneys have known about the tape since March, when one of the aides who attended the meeting, Margo Martin, was asked about it during a grand jury hearing, according to a person familiar with the events. Investigators working under Special Counsel Jack Smith subpoenaed the tape copy of her after that appearance.
The full clip debunks arguments made by some of Trump’s allies that he was simply blustering and exaggerating or mischaracterizing the material he described in the recording.
The indictment accuses Trump of illegally holding 31 individual national security documents and conspiring with one of his personal assistants, Walt Nauta, to obstruct repeated government efforts to reclaim the documents.
Mr. Nauta is expected to be arraigned over the charges in federal district court in Miami on Tuesday. As part of the conditions of Mr. Trump’s release from his own arraignment, he was ordered not to tell Mr. Nauta or a list of 84 witnesses who took part in the special counsel’s investigation about the case.