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Trump Told Journalist Bob Woodward Kim Letters Were “Top Secret” Back in 2019

Journalist Bob Woodward said Trump talked in a “casual, dangerous way” about nuclear national security secrets.

Former President Donald Trump looks on during a campaign rally in Minden, Nevada, on October 8, 2022.

Former President Donald Trump was apparently aware in 2019 that materials retrieved from his Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this year were highly classified, according to recorded conversations between him and veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

Earlier this week, excerpts were released from “The Trump Tapes,” an audiobook by Woodward that will be published later this month. In them, Trump tells Woodward about correspondences he received from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which he has previously referred to as “love letters.”

“Don’t say I gave them to you, okay?” Trump tells Woodward in an excerpt from their conversation in December 2019.

In an excerpt of a conversation that took place in January 2020, Woodward asks Trump if he can see letters he wrote to Kim. “Oh, those are top secret,” Trump tells Woodward, although the journalist was eventually allowed to read the letters and record their contents on his tape recorder.

In commentary for the audiobook, Woodward reports being troubled by Trump’s cavalier attitude regarding the documents, saying that Trump responded to questions about North Korea’s nuclear program in a “casual, dangerous way.” It’s also likely that the former president revealed too much when bragging about the U.S.’s nuclear program, the journalist says.

“I have built a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about,” Trump tells him in the tapes.

The revelations from the Woodward audiobook could hurt Trump’s legal arguments in the case regarding his improper removal of thousands of government documents from the White House upon his exit from office, including at least 300 marked as classified.

Trump’s comments showcase that he knew almost three years ago that the letters between him and Kim were deemed classified. Since documents were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in August, however, Trump has baselessly claimed that he had declassified those and other documents obtained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) as president. Trump has even suggested that, as president, he had the ability to declassify documents merely through his thoughts.

If classified government documents had been declassified by the president, there would be a record of such an action, security experts have said. But there is no record of declassification for the Kim letters — and although the other documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago have not yet been made public, there’s no indication they were declassified, either.

The Presidential Records Act requires all documents handled by or originating from the president to be handed over to NARA upon their departure from the White House, whether or not those documents are classified. This includes mementos like letters from foreign dignitaries.

It’s possible that Trump is still holding onto additional government documents, either at Mar-a-Lago or elsewhere. According to NARA, the agency has not yet recovered all of the documents it knows went missing when Trump became a private citizen.

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