“...It is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this," Donald Trump exclaimed, reportedly waving around a classified Pentagon document like a corrupt kid during show and tell. “This was done by the military and given to me."
“As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t," Trump says in a rambling audio recording in the Justice Department’s possession. CNN, who first revealed the tape’s existence last week, just published transcript excerpts of the conversation that appears to be smoking gun evidence of the former president committing multiple crimes. Twelve hours after news first broke of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of Donald Trump, we now have this bombshell development. DOJ prosecutors could not have prayed for a better piece of evidence.
You can’t make this up. If you pitched this script in a writer’s room for a show about a comically corrupt president, you’d be laughed out of the room. They’d tell you this is too on the nose. Not even Veep or Succession could pull writing like this off. It’s an absolutely unreal level of reckless hubris that could only come from a guy like Trump who avoided accountability his entire life. Well, not anymore.
The audio is from July 2021 and captures a meeting at Trump’s New Jersey Bedminster Golf Club. The conversation was between Trump, two people working on former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’s autobiography, and other Trump aides. None of the attendees had security clearances. The conversation came in the aftermath of a 2021 New Yorker article about the Joint Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, who claimed he fought to stop Trump from striking Iran. Trump wasn’t happy with the story.
"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," Trump says emphatically. You can reportedly hear the rustling of paper in the audio as Trump picks up a document.
"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." Trump continues: “All sorts of stuff – pages long, look. Wait a minute, let’s see here. I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know." The case he’s talking about is his beef with Milley.
Trump kept going. "Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this.” Trump seemingly directs those in the room to illegally look at this "confidential" and "secret" document. Secret and confidential are levels of classification.
But Trump wasn’t finished. He decided to undercut his future legal defense. After apparently being asked if he could declassify the document, Trump says: "As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t."
The New York Times added to CNN’s reporting, claiming that after the above exchange, Trump reiterated that a document was "classified" and a woman replied "Now we have a problem," indicating there was an awareness this was wrong. Trump then said “Isn’t that interesting? It’s so cool. You probably almost didn’t believe me, but now you believe me.”
CNN reports that laughter could be heard during the audio recording as Trump went through this demonstration. It was apparently classified comedy hour at Bedminster that day. But no one in Trump’s circle is laughing now. By Friday morning, two of Trump’s lawyers have already quit and Trump aide, Walt Nauta, has also been indicted in this case.
In March, the DOJ reportedly subpoenaed Trump in search of the document Trump was bragging about in this tape, but Trump’s team couldn’t find it. Even without the document itself being recovered, the audio is incredibly damning and bolsters several of the reported charges Trump faces. Trump might as well have said, "Look at me, I’m committing a crime. Several crimes, frankly. Tremendous criming. I know this is a crime, and I’m doing it anyway. Aren’t I hilarious?" That’s the energy this tape gives.
When it comes to the reported charge of willful retention of defense documents in violation of the Espionage Act, this tape sure appears to establish criminal intent and consciousness of guilt. Trump not only showcases that he is well aware the document is classified, he straight up says that he doesn’t have the power to declassify it post-presidency - directly undermining his current legal defense that he somehow did declassify the over 100 classified documents he stored at Mar-a-Lago.
This tape also clearly demonstrates Trump’s reckless mishandling of classified national security material. Trump waved the document around and described its contents in a room full of people without security clearances. This evidence uncovered by Special Counsel Jack Smith’s probe is overwhelming. The case is strong and clear as day. The facts are indisputable. There is no spin. Trump did this and bragged about it on tape.
In spite of these facts, Trump’s defenders have either opted to attack the Justice Department for "weaponization" or decided to play a game of whataboutism and attack Hillary Clinton. I think it’s important to state clearly, that multiple Trump Administration probes into Hillary Clinton’s conduct found no criminal wrongdoing. Clinton did not steal Top Secret/SCI documents, store them in an unsecured country club frequently targeted by foreign counterintelligence operations, lie about it, refuse to return them, and admit on tape she didn’t declassify while exposing the documents. Trump did that.
Donald Trump is being indicted for the same, and in many ways, significantly worse corrupt conduct than what he falsely accused Hillary Clinton of doing. And now he’s been caught on tape admitting it. How ironic. Congratulations, Donald. You played yourself.