A new report details a recording in which former President Donald Trump talks about the classified documents he transferred from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
The recording was previously known through prior reporting, and is currently in the hands of the Department of Justice (DOJ), where it will likely be used as evidence against Trump in the upcoming indictment trial regarding his improper handling of government documents.
CNN has obtained a transcript of the recording, which showcases that Trump was aware that at least some of the documents in his possession were classified, and that he did not declassify them as president or on his way out of the White House — statements that directly contradict his public defenses for having the documents in his possession.
The recording was made in the summer of 2021, and includes Trump speaking with individuals who were hired to help Mark Meadows, Trump’s final chief of staff as president, with researching a book he was writing at the time.
The recording includes sounds of Trump rustling papers, as if he’s showing those involved in the conversation examples of documents he had held onto, sources with knowledge of the recording said to CNN.
In the recording, Trump readily admits to those in the room that the documents he has on him are classified. “As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” he said, according to the transcript.
“Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me,” Trump said.
The recording includes complaints of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who instructed members of the Joint Chiefs at the end of Trump’s presidency not to follow any illegal orders from Trump, and to inform him personally if they were concerned with any of his orders, as Trump was acting erratically during his final weeks in office.
On Milley, and the documents Trump purports to have taken from him, Trump said:
Well, with Milley – uh, let me see that, I’ll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn’t that amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him. They presented me this – this is off the record, but – they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him. We looked at some. This was him. This wasn’t done by me, this was him.
“Secret. This is secret information,” Trump added on the recording, presumably showing the information to those individuals.
“This recording is as close to a smoking gun as you can get,” said Aaron Parnas, an attorney and Republican-turned-Democrat who is now a frequent critic of Trump, adding that it “shows willfulness” on the former president’s part to keep and retain government documents.
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has followed Trump since before he ran for office, also commented on the transcript on CNN on Friday.
Haberman said she believes Trump’s lawyers will try to defend him once he goes to trial by claiming he was ignorant about what he was discussing.
“I think they are going to stick that their line: ‘He says things, he didn’t mean it a certain way,'” Haberman said, adding that she’s “sure they can come up with all kinds of explanations for why he used the language he used.”
The status of the documents that Trump is heard discussing in the recording is not known at this time. In March, after receiving the recording, the DOJ subpoenaed Trump to get the documents in question back, but Trump’s lawyers told prosecutors they couldn’t find them. It’s unclear if the DOJ has retrieved the documents since.
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