Donald Trump has taken to Truth Social to fume about a bombshell leaked audio tape where he is heard discussing holding onto “secret” classified documents after leaving office – and admitting that he knows he cannot declassify them.
In the recording, captured during a July 2021 meeting at Mr Trump’s Bedminster golf club and released by CNN on Monday, the former president is heard boasting and laughing with associates about possessing “highly confidential” military documents about Iran.
“These are the papers,” he says. “This was done by the military and given to me.”
As the sound of what appears to be papers rustling is heard, Mr Trump references a “big pile of papers” and makes the startling confession that he knows he can no longer declassify the documents because he is no longer president.
The former president reacted to the release of the tape in a characteristic rant on Truth Social on Monday night, where he railed against “Deranged Special Prosecutor” Jack Smith and baselessly accused the Justice Department (DOJ) and the FBI of leaking it.
“The Deranged Special Prosecutor, Jack Smith, working in conjunction with the DOJ & FBI, illegally leaked and “spun” a tape and transcript of me which is actually an exoneration, rather than what they would have you believe,” he wrote.
“This continuing Witch Hunt is another ELECTION INTERFERENCE Scam. They are cheaters and thugs!”
Mr Trump offered no explanation for his belief that the tape exonerates him – a belief largely at odds with much reaction to the tape.
George Conway, Lincoln Project cofounder and vocal critic of Mr Trump, called the former president a “sociopathic criminal” in response to the newly-obtained audio and called it just “another nail in the coffin” for his growing legal issues.
“The special counsel already had Trump dead to rights because we knew this tape existed in some form,”
“But to actually hear a former president of the United States committing a felony, probably multiple felonies, on audiotape while laughing about it is something I just – I think it’s just stunning.”
He added: “I mean, this man has no respect for rules, no respect for the lives of other human beings, no respect for the country, no respect for the Constitution, no respect for his duties.
“He is a sociopathic criminal. And this is just another nail in the coffin.”
In the two-minute audio, Mr Trump is heard appearing to indicate that he is holding onto a secret military document about Iran.
“Well, with Milley, uh, let me see that, I’ll show you an example,” he says.
“He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn’t that amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him,” he says as the noise of papers rustling is heard in the background.
“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. 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,” he says, to laughter from people inside the room.
“This is secret information. Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me. As president I could have declassified, but now I can’t.”
Mr Trump and the meeting participants go on to joke that Hillary Clinton would “print” out the documents, joking about her “private emails”.
“Hillary would print that out all the time, you know. Her private emails,” one staffer is heard saying.
“No, she’d send it to Anthony Weiner,” Mr Trump replies, in reference to Ms Clinton’s use of a private email server. The former secretary of state has never been charged with a crime.
The audio was recorded on 21 July 2021 at Bedminster during a meeting between Mr Trump, at least two of his aides and people helping Mr Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows with his memoir.
The audio was previously revealed in the DOJ’s indictment charging Mr Trump over his handling of classified documents but has never been heard until now.
Its release appears to contradict Mr Trump’s claim in a Fox News’ interview that he did not have any documents.
Earlier this month, Mr Trump was indicted on 37 federal charges over his handling of classified documents, including national defence information, after leaving the White House.
The indictment, which was unsealed on Friday (9 June), alleges that Mr Trump deliberately lied to and misled authorities so that he could hold onto documents that he knew were classified.
On at least two separate occasions, Mr Trump then showed some of the classified documents to people not authorised to see them, the indictment alleges.
Stunning photos revealed that many of the documents were stored around a toilet, shower and ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The charges include 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information and single counts of false statements and representations, and counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document, concealing a document in a federal investigation and a scheme to conceal.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment in a Miami federal courthouse, becoming the first current or former US president ever charged with a federal crime.
Mr Trump’s longtime aide Walt Nauta was also charged with six obstruction- and concealment-related charges after he allegedly helped move boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago to Mr Trump’s residence and then lied to investigators about having any knowledge of the handling of the papers.
The two men appeared in court together but Mr Nauta did not enter a plea as he did not have legal counsel in Florida.
Mr Nauta is now scheduled to appear for his arraignment on Tuesday morning.
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