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Source: Washington Post

Jun 9, 2023

Trump on tape: ‘Now I can’t’ declassify secret Iran papers
A person familiar with the transcript of a 2021 conversation describes incriminating statements

By Devlin BarrettJacqueline Alemany and Perry Stein

The evidence leading to the historic indictment of former president Donald Trump includes an audio recording from 2021 in which he talks about an apparently secret document and says, “As president, I could have declassified it, but now I can’t,” a person familiar with a transcript of the remarks said Friday.

In recent days, it has become clear that Trump’s own words are some of the most powerful evidence against him, leading to the filing of a seven-count indictment accusing him of willful retention of national defense secrets, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and false statements, according to people familiar with the case. The charges against the former president have yet to be unsealed, but one of his lawyers confirmed them last night to CNN, which first reported the comments caught on tape.

Trump said Thursday night that his lawyers had been notified that he had been indicted in Miami and must appear in court there Tuesday afternoon. He has denied wrongdoing and accused the government of pursuing him for partisan reasons as he runs again for president. This is the first time that a former U.S. president has been charged with crimes by the Justice Department that once reported to him.

The recording was made in the summer of 2021 as Trump spoke to researchers for a book being written by his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to people familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe elements of the case.

While there is a host of paper, video and witness evidence against Trump for alleged mishandling of classified information and obstruction of justice, the recording is significant because it undercuts a central claim that Trump has put forward since the investigation was opened last year — that he had somehow, at some time, declassified the hundreds of classified documents later found at his Mar-a-Lago home and private club.

Prosecutors obtained the recording and played it for at least one witness who appeared this year before a grand jury in Washington. In the recording, Trump complains about Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“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 said, according to the person familiar with the transcript. “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. … This wasn’t done by me, this was him. 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. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. … This was done by the military and given to me.”

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

By Devlin BarrettDevlin Barrett writes about the FBI and the Justice Department, and is the author of "October Surprise: How the FBI Tried to Save Itself and Crashed an Election." He was part of reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes in 2018 and 2022. In 2017 he was a co-finalist for the Pulitzer for Feature Writing and the Pulitzer for International Reporting. Twitter

By Jacqueline AlemanyJacqueline Alemany is a Congressional Investigations reporter for The Washington Post. Previously, she was the author of The Early 202, The Post's flagship early morning newsletter featuring news critical to the nation’s many power centers. Alemany is also an on-air contributor to NBC News and MSNBC. Twitter

By Perry SteinPerry Stein covers the Justice Department and FBI for The Washington Post. She previously covered D.C. education. Before she joined The Post in 2015, she was a staff writer for Washington City Paper and wrote for the Miami Herald. Twitter

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