Friday, June 2, 2023

Audio of Donald Trump considering use of classified information related to possible attack on Iran rips a gaping hole in his defense for documents investigation

Donald Trump

Donald Trump's legal problems just got much worse, following reports that he was captured on audio considering the dangers of using classified information related to a possible attack on a foreign adversary. Considering that large chunks of the U.S. electorate apparently will support Trump no matter what he does, the story could signal that American democracy is at heightened risk. Kelly McClure, of Salon, considers a number of issues related to the latest Trump drama. Also, experts weigh in on what this means to the investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents.  Writes Kelly McClure:

In a newly obtained audio recording that's now in the hands of federal prosecutors, former President Trump is heard weighing the dangers of making use of classified information pertaining to a potential attack on Iran.

According to CNN, the audio was recorded during a meeting in 2021 and serves as proof that Trump sat on classified Pentagon documents post presidency — which he has previously and consistently denied doing, "assert[ing] he could retain presidential records and 'automatically' declassify documents."

As the outlet makes clear, with help from information received from several sources as reporters had yet to hear the audio themselves, "Trump's comments suggest he would like to share the information but he's aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records.

The legal implications might be the most serious Trump has faced to date, McClure writes:

On Tuesday, Salon published an update on Trump's possible "Espionage Act" charges for mishandling of classified documents after news broke from The Washington Post that he made a habit of showing off sensitive government information.

"The news report suggests an escalation in the seriousness of the charges Trump faces," former federal prosecutor Kevin O'Brien told Salon. "Evidence that he showed highly sensitive documents to third parties implicates the Espionage Act, which forbids willfully conveying such a document 'to any person not entitled to receive it,' or willfully failing to deliver the same on demand to a government officer or employee entitled to receive it. Trump appears to fall under both prongs of the statute, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison per violation."

One expert said the audio points to Trump's criminal intent in the documents case, McClure writes:

In a reaction to the news of this further damning evidence against Trump, Los Angeles Times Sr. Legal Affairs Columnist, Harry Litman, tweeted, "Trump saying that he's limited in his ability to show classified documents is game, set and match as far as intent and guilty knowledge go. Blows the various 'I am entitled' claims out of the water."

Some experts said the audio shows Trump "essentially confess," according to a report from Salon's Igor Derysh:

Federal prosecutors obtained an audio recording in which former President Donald Trump admits retaining a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, raising the threat of a potential indictment in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, according to CNN.

The recording indicates that Trump knew he kept classified material. The former president suggests in the audio that he wants to share the information but is unable due to the classification, undercutting his claims that he "declassified" the documents he took home.

The recording includes about two minutes of Trump talking about the Iran document, according to the report, but is part of a much longer meeting. Special counsel Jack Smith has focused on the meeting as part of the Mar-a-Lago probe and sources told CNN it is an "important" piece of evidence in a possible case against the former president.

Prosecutors have also questioned witnesses about the recording, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

The meeting took place in July 2021 at Trump's Bedminster, N.J., golf course with two people working on former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' autobiography and Trump aides, including communications specialist Margo Martin, according to the report. The individuals did not have security clearance required to see classified material.

Martin, who recorded the conversation, according to The Guardian, was asked about the recording during a grand-jury appearance after having her laptop and phones imaged by prosecutors. Her March testimony was the first time Trump's lawyers learned about the recording, a source told the outlet.

Meadows' autobiography describes the meeting, during which Trump "recalls a four-page report typed up by (Trump's former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Mark Milley himself. It contained the general's own plan to attack Iran, deploying massive numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency."

The document was not actually produced by MIlley, according to CNN.

Trump in the meeting was angry about news reports that Milley urged him not to attack Iran in the final days of his presidency and appeared to believe the document would undercut Milley's reported statements.

The audio appears to significantly enhance Trump's legal jeopardy, Derysh reports:

Legal experts said the recording undercuts Trump's declassification claims — and raises the possibility that he will be charged under the Espionage Act.

"War plans are among the most highly classified documents. Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict," tweeted New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman, a former Pentagon lawyer.

"Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case. It is not simply an 'obstruction' case," he wrote. "There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove."

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