Former President Donald Trump acknowledged on tape in a 2021 meeting that he had retained “secret” military information that he had not declassified, according to a transcript of the audio recording obtained by CNN.
“As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” Trump says, according to the transcript.
CNN obtained the transcript of a portion of the meeting where Trump is discussing a classified Pentagon document about attacking Iran. In the audio recording, which CNN previously reported was obtained by prosecutors, Trump says that he did not declassify the document he’s referencing, according to the transcript.
Trump was indicted Thursday on seven counts in special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the mishandling of classified documents. Details from the indictment have not been made public, so it unknown whether any of the seven counts refer to the recorded 2021 meeting. Still, the tape is significant because it shows that Trump had an understanding the records he had with him at Mar-a-Lago after he left the White House remained classified.
Publicly, Trump has claimed that all the documents he brought with him to his Florida residence are declassified, while he’s railed against the special counsel’s investigation as a political witch hunt attempting to interfere with his 2024 presidential campaign.
CNN first reported last week that prosecutors had obtained the audio recording of Trump’s 2021 meeting at his Bedminster, New Jersey, resort, with two people working on the autobiography of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as aides employed by the former president, including communications specialist Margo Martin.
The transcript of the audio recording suggests that Trump is showing the document he’s discussing to those in the room. Several sources have told CNN the recording captures the sound of paper rustling, as if Trump was waving the document around, though is not clear if it was the actual Iran document.
“Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this,” Trump says at one point, according to the transcript. “This was done by the military and given to me.”
Trump was complaining in the meeting about Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. The meeting occurred shortly after The New Yorker published a story by Susan Glasser detailing how, in the final days of Trump’s presidency, Milley instructed the Joint Chiefs to ensure Trump issued no illegal orders and that he be informed if there was any concern.
“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. Look. This was him,” Trump says, according to the transcript. “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. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this.”
“Secret” and “confidential” are two levels of classification for sensitive government documents.
In March, prosecutors subpoenaed Trump for the document referenced in the 2021 recording. Trump’s lawyers provided some documents related to Iran and Milley in response to the subpoena, but they could not find the document itself.
Federal prosecutors have been investigating Trump over the mishandling of classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago and obstruction of the investigation. Trump’s lawyer said the former president was given a summons by the Justice Department to appear in court Tuesday in southern Florida.
The Mar-a-Lago investigation is one of two being led by Smith, who was appointed special counsel in November by Attorney General Merrick Garland. Smith’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election is still ongoing.