The audio tape of Donald Trump discussing a classified document with individuals who did not have security clearance is “the smoking gun piece of evidence” in the federal indictment of the ex-president, former prosecutor Joyce Vance said.
Trump is being charged on 37 counts in the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into his handling of classified documents since he left the Oval Office in January 2021. Federal prosecutors allege that Trump mishandled sensitive national information and obstructed government efforts to retrieve the documents once they were known to be in his possession.
In the 49-page indictment that was revealed on Friday, prosecutors provided a transcription of an audio recording of the former president that was made in July 2021, during which Trump is speaking with a writer, publisher and two members of his staff at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The tape features Trump discussing a “highly confidential” record with his guests, and the former president says during the recording that he did not have the document declassified before he left the White House.
The audio clip, according to Vance, who previously served as U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama, is “pretty remarkable” evidence against the former president, who previously claimed to have declassified all of the documents that the DOJ found at his Mar-a-Lago estate in August 2022.
“This really is, this is the smoking gun piece of evidence in this case,” said Vance, who joined podcast host Preet Bharara on Friday’s episode of “In Brief” to discuss the DOJ’s indictment.
“This is Trump in essence committing a crime,” she continued. “While he’s in the room with these folks on tape, he’s actually showing classified material that he is not entitled to have, to other people who are not entitled to see it. While discussing his guilty state of mind and knowledge that it’s a crime at the same time. It’s really pretty remarkable. I can’t remember ever seeing anything like this.”
The document that Trump shows to his guests is a classified Pentagon document that lays out a potential plan of attack against an unnamed country, according to the DOJ’s indictment. During his conversation, Trump tells one of his staffers that, as president, he “could have declassified it,” but “now I can’t.”
Reports regarding the audio recording first surfaced late last month after a source familiar with the DOJ’s investigation told CNN that prosecutors were in possession of a recording of Trump acknowledging that he had classified materials. At the time, former prosecutor Glenn Kirschner called the tape one of the several “smoking guns” against the former president in the case.
Other legal experts, such as former special counsel at the Department of Defense Ryan Goodman, have also called the 2021 recording as “highly damning evidence” in the DOJ’s investigation.
“This is so significant that it raises the question whether there could be a superseding indictment for dissemination of classified documents/national defense information,” Goodman wrote on Twitter.
“It’s a cakewalk for prosecutors to prove Trump illegally retained documents, from a purely legal perspective and setting aside the politics and what a Florida jury’s bias might be,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Newsweek Friday.
Trump has repeatedly declared his innocence over social media and claims that the DOJ’s investigation is politically motivated to interrupt his chances in the 2024 presidential election. The former president and his allies have also claimed that the charges are a way to distract from the bribery scheme allegations against President Joe Biden and his family members.
Newsweek has reached out via email to Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche for comment.
In total, the DOJ is charging Trump on 37 counts, including 31 related to the willful retention of national defense information. He is also facing one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice; withholding a document or record; corruptly concealing a document or record; concealing a document in a federal investigation; scheme to conceal; and false statements and representations.
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