Former President Donald Trump is saying he behaved appropriately and had not shown a classified document after CNN aired a July 2021 audio recording of him talking about an attack plan against Iran.
CNN aired an audio recording on Monday night in which it sounds as though Trump is describing military planning for an attack on Iran. Elements of the audio recording appear to match up with a segment of special counsel Jack Smith’s federal indictment (pdf) against Trump, which describes a July 2021 meeting between Trump, a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff, where they discussed the attack plan while interviewing Trump for a memoir about his former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
In the July 2021 recording, Trump said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley formulated an Iran attack plan, despite claims circulating in the media that Milley feared Trump would start a war with Iran.
“[Milley] said that I wanted to attack Iran, isn’t it amazing? I have a big pile of papers; this thing just came up,” Trump can be heard saying in the audio recording. “Look. This was him … This wasn’t done by me, this was him. All sorts of stuff, pages long, look.”
The sound of papers shuffling can be heard in the recording before an unidentified speaker says, “Oh my gosh.”
“I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know,” Trump responds. “Except it is, like, highly confidential, secret, this is secret information.”
It’s unclear from the conversation and sounds of documents shuffling alone what document Trump was describing in the recording. In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Trump said there had been a pile of documents on his desk during the conversation but none that specifically contained classified or sensitive national defense information.
“I had a whole desk full of lots of papers, mostly newspaper articles, copies of magazines, copies of different plans, copies of stories, having to do with many, many subjects, and what was said was absolutely fine and very perfectly,” Trump told Fox News. “We did nothing wrong. This is a whole hoax.”
Trump Says He’s Not Concerned About Audio Recordings
Trump said the release of the audio recording amounted to “election interference, more than anything else,” but again said there was no indication he had acted inappropriately with classified documents.
Fox News asked Trump whether he was concerned about his voice appearing on the recording.
“My voice was fine. What did I say wrong on those recordings? I didn’t even see the recording. All I know is I did nothing wrong,” Trump replied. “We had a lot of papers, a lot of papers stacked up. In fact, you hear the rustle of the paper. And nobody said that I did anything wrong other than the fake news, which of course is Fox, too.”
Fox News then asked Trump if he was aware of any additional audio recordings pertaining to his handling of classified documents.
“I don’t know of any recordings that we should be concerned with because I don’t do things wrong,” Trump said. “I do things right. I’m a legitimate person.”
While stating he acted appropriately with government documents, Trump repeatedly referenced the discovery of classified documents in President Joe Biden’s possession, as well as claims the Biden family engaged in bribery and influence peddling schemes.
“I’m not like Biden that gets hundreds of millions of dollars from people and countries,” Trump said.
Says Iran Discussion Exonerates Him
In his initial response to CNN airing the audio recording, Trump said the recording exonerates him.
It’s not clear precisely when in July 2021 the alleged conversation between Trump and the writer and publisher took place.
On July 15, several news media outlets began to publish excerpts of the book “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Those book excerpts included claims that Milley feared Trump would attempt a coup or start a war with Iran in order to stay in office after the 2020 election.
Trump denied the coup allegations and lambasted Milley in a July 15 press statement. The audio recording that CNN obtained and aired may have been a continuation of Trump’s efforts to dispute the Iran attack allegations circulating in the press at the time.
Declassification and the Special Counsel Case
The July 2021 audio recording is briefly described in Smith’s special counsel indictment against Trump. The former president and leading 2024 Republican presidential candidate faces 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information and additional counts for allegedly obstructing investigations and withholding documents from officials attempting to retrieve them.
Trump has repeatedly claimed he declassified documents that he took from the White House during and after his presidency, including the documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort that form the basis for the federal indictment.
Prosecutors could present the audio recording at trial and argue that it shows Trump hadn’t declassified all the documents in his possession. Smith’s special counsel team has already asserted in their indictment against Trump that the recording indicates he either showed or described a classified document to people who lacked security clearances to view them.
In addition to his assertions that he declassified documents, Trump told Fox News that he is legally protected by the Presidential Records Act and a 2012 court ruling that he referred to as the “Clinton Socks Case.” The case Trump described was a decision by a federal judge to reject a request by Judicial Watch to compel the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) to collect and then divulge recordings former President Bill Clinton had retained from his time in office. Clinton had reportedly kept dozens of these tapes in his sock drawer.
“I’m covered by the Presidential Records Act. I’m covered also by the Clinton Socks Case. It’s a very important case. It’s law,” Trump told Fox News on Tuesday.
Legal analyst Mike Davis—who served as a legal counsel to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), as clerk for a federal judge, and who now heads the Article III Project—has also argued that Trump is protected by the federal ruling on the Clinton-era recordings.