Former President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a recording of him talking about sensitive military documents amounted to just “bravado” and claimed he did not show off anything classified when he said on the tape that he was handling “highly confidential” and “secret information” in front of guests.
Trump made the comments to Semafor and ABC News a day after CNN first aired a shocking two-minute clip of him at a 2021 meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey, with people working on the memoir of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows. In the audio, the former president can be heard describing a document complied by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Trump was president, on potential attacks on Iran.
“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,” Trump said of the papers he was showing. “All sorts of stuff, pages long. Let’s see here… Isn’t that amazing. This totally wins my case, you know, except that it is like highly confidential, secret, this is secret information.”
Trump told reporters aboard his plane Tuesday that those comments were not damning, that they were actually just his typical bluster.
“I would say it was bravado, if you want to know the truth, it was bravado,” Trump told Semafor and ABC News. “I was talking and just holding up papers and talking about them, but I had no documents. I didn’t have any documents.”
“I just held up a whole pile of — my desk is loaded up with papers,” he added. “I have papers from 25 different things.”
The audio clip published this week, however, seems to show Trump knew the documents he was handling during the 2021 meeting were sensitive.
“See, as president I could have declassified it,” Trump said in the clip. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
The former president has cycled through a series of defenses amid the inquiry into his behavior post-White House. Trump has maintained he was allowed to take anything he wanted when he left office and that he had a standing order to declassify anything removed from the Oval Office during his tenure.
On Monday, he added the audio clip was “actually an exoneration,” attacking prosecutors and calling the investigation another witch hunt.
The recording is a key piece of evidence in special counsel Jack Smith’s case into the former president’s handling of classified files after he left the White House, and it is one of two conversations prosecutors reference in their indictment.
Trump was arraigned on 37 criminal counts this month. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.