Former President Donald Trump bragged about possessing a secret document that he could not show to others because he did not declassify it in an audio recording obtained by CNN and The New York Times.
Trump on the recording, which was cited in the 37-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury earlier this month, suggests that he is holding a secret document detailing contingency plans to attack Iran while talking to former chief of staff Mark Meadows’ autobiography ghostwriters.
“These are the papers,” Trump says in the recording, referring to something “highly confidential” as he appears to show it to others in the room.
The quote was not included in the indictment and may undermine Trump’s claim to Fox News last week.
“There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things,” Trump told the network. “And it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document. I didn’t have a document, per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.”
National security attorney Bradley Moss tweeted that the audio shows “this wasn’t newspaper articles. He has the document right there.”
Trump in the recording discusses a New Yorker report that said Chairman of the Joints Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley argued against striking Iran and was concerned that Trump may start a war before leaving office.
“He said that I wanted to attack Iran, Isn’t it amazing?” Trump says as the sound of papers shuffling is heard in the recording. “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.”
Trump in the recording admits that he did not declassify the document despite repeated claims that he declassified the material he took home to Mar-a-Lago.
“See as president I could have declassified it,” Trump said. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
“Now we have a problem,” his staffer added.
“Isn’t that interesting,” Trump said.
“It’s so cool. I mean, it’s so, look, her and I, and you probably almost didn’t believe me, but now you believe me,” Trump added toward the end of the recording, before beckoning an aide to “bring some Cokes in please.”
“The audio tape provides context proving, once again, that President Trump did nothing wrong at all,” Trump spokesman Steve Cheung told The New York Times, claiming that Trump was “speaking rhetorically.”
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But legal experts say the recording is more damning than the portions of the transcript cited in the indictment and predicted that it could doom Trump’s case.
“The defendant in his own words — essentially narrating his crime,” tweeted New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman.
“This is so bad for Trump,” warned MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang.
“This recording is even more damning than it reads in the indictment,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
“They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This audio could be worth a thousand days behind bars,” he added.
“If the defendant doesn’t go to prison for at least five to ten years, it would be a travesty. The prosecutors have him dead to rights, in more ways than we can count,” agreed conservative attorney and frequent Trump critic George Conway.
“To actually hear a former president of the United States committing a felony ― probably multiple felonies ― on audio tape while laughing about it … I think it’s just stunning,” Conway told CNN, calling the audio “another nail in the coffin.”
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on a special counsel Bob Mueller’s team, predicted the recording would doom Trump’s defense.
“This is game over if you are following the facts and the law,” he told MSNBC. “He’s charged with having classified information and knowing that he had classified information.”
Garrett Graff, the author of “Watergate: A New History,” compared Trump’s admission on the tape to the trove of recordings that sunk Richard Nixon during the scandal.
“Speaking as a Watergate historian, there’s nowhere on thousands of hours of Nixon tapes where Nixon makes any comment as clear, as clearly illegal, and as clearly self-aware as this Trump tape,” Graff tweeted, adding that “Nixon’s crimes were many and awful, and yet still not approaching Trump.”
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