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Source: The Guardian

Jun 27, 2023

Bedminster golf club tape casts doubt on Trump account of Iran document

Ex-president described materials as from ‘defense department’ despite recent assertions he was referring to news clippings

BY Hugo Lowell in Washington

Donald Trump repeatedly talked about a document on Iran that he described as having come from the “defense department” in an audio recording from July 2021 that cast doubt on his recent assertions that the material he was referring to were a stack of printed news clippings.

The actual audio of the recording, played publicly for the first time by CNN and obtained by the Guardian, reveals the full extent of Trump’s discussion that was only partially included in the indictment and could make for a compelling presentation if deemed admissible at trial.

The tape also included passages where Trump acknowledged that he could not declassify materials because he was no longer president.

The tape was made at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey the summer after Trump left office, during a meeting with a publisher and a writer working on a memoir by Trump’s final chief of staff Mark Meadows, according to people familiar with the matter.

The discussion captured by the tape involved Trump trying to rebut reporting that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley feared he might attack Iran. Trump was claiming that the situation was reversed, and told participants to “look” at what he was holding.

“He said I wanted to attack Iran,” Trump said on the tape, seemingly referring to Milley. “Isn’t it amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look – this was him. This is off the record but they presented me this, this was him. This was the defense department and him.”

“This was him. All sorts of stuff. Pages long. Let’s see here,” Trump said, appearing to shuffle papers. “Isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is highly confidential, this is secret information.”

Trump added: “This was done by the military, given to me. I think we can, probably – see as president, I could have declassified. Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret” – to which a staffer responds, laughing: “Now we have a problem.” Trump then called for someone to bring out Coca Cola drinks.

Notably, the manner in which Trump referred to the Iran document at the time appears to be at odds with how he described the material in a Fox News interview conducted last week, after he was charged in the classified documents case.

In the interview, Trump suggested that he was not trying to show off any “secret” or “highly confidential” documents, but he was instead referring to clippings of news articles about Milley and military plans for Iran.

“There was no document,” Trump said. “That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things. And it may have been held up or it 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.”

A Trump spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Whether the audio recording is deemed to be admissible at trial remains uncertain, and federal prosecutors did not charge Trump with retaining an Iran document, an indication that they did not conclusively identify the material Trump discussed despite months of investigation.

The admissible evidence would be limited to materials that help establish Trump’s possession of the documents was unauthorized, and that Trump retained the documents with the knowledge that doing so was illegal.

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