Here’s Why the Tape of Trump Discussing Classified Documents is So Important
Everyone has probably heard the headlines by now: Donald Trump caught on tape discussing a classified Pentagon document about a
Everyone has probably heard the headlines by now: Donald Trump caught on tape discussing a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran.
The tape was recorded in 2021, and features Trump acknowledging that he held onto the classified document.
It completely undermines Trump’s defense that he has made about his handling of classified documents which the FBI recovered from his Mar-a-Lago residence in August of 2022.
The tape, unearthed by CNN, has been called a “bombshell revelation” and a “damning piece of evidence” for the special counsel investigating Trump over the documents.
CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer spoke with Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz, who helped break the tape story.
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CNN reports, “WOLF: How do these developments – and the existence of the audio tape we’ve heard about but not heard – affect Trump’s larger legal issues?
POLANTZ: First of all, it’s an audio tape that the Justice Department has, which is a big deal on its own because an audio tape is evidence. And from all of the former prosecutors we’ve talked to, this is the type of evidence that would be admissible in court – that was legally recorded.
We don’t know what the actual words on the tape are and what you can hear Trump saying, but the way it’s been described to us is that it is abundantly clear that it captures Trump’s knowledge that he […] has classified information in his possession still, where it should not be, outside of the hands of federal government, and also is willfully keeping it, which is a really important element when you’re looking at a criminal case. So that’s all very significant. Whether or not it’s declassified – his team spends a lot of time focusing on that, whether he had this ability to declassify – that’s actually not what the law is about.”
Polantz goes on to explain that the case special counsel Jack Smith is investigating is “not exactly” about classified information. “The law is about protecting national defense information. It can be classified, it doesn’t have to be. It is about criminalizing (the information) being kept outside of a protected area, even by somebody who is allowed to have classified information. Somebody with a clearance. This is Trump having it outside the protected area. He’s talking about the information in the document. He’s referring to the document as if it’s right there before him. You can hear what could be the document rustling on the tape. … What he’s acknowledging sounds like, from what we understand, it could very much be something that meets all of the things a prosecutor would look at to tick a box to say this is legally viable as we’re building a case on the mishandling of a record.”
The reporter adds that the location of the tape’s recording – in Bedminster, New Jersey, is also important for Smith’s investigation. Polantz explains, “… it creates a situation where it’s not just a bunch of boxes that people haphazardly threw stuff into without looking at and then just got dragged around down to Mar-a-Lago when he went there and then maybe moved to Bedminster.
WATCH: Federal investigators have Trump *on tape* talking about classified docs he kept after leaving office & acknowledging the limits of his ability to declassify material once he was no longer President. I joined @AC360 w/more on this big scoop w/@kaitlancollins @kpolantz. pic.twitter.com/cJnrTrKuax
— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCNN) June 1, 2023
This appears to indicate Trump knew he had documents with him at Bedminster and that the investigation certainly is not just about what happened at Mar-a-Lago.”
And, Polantz adds, there is a “Goldilocks Test” when a classified information investigation is being held. “These cases take time not because it takes time to run down the evidence, but because they have to go through a process to determine, are these state secrets that we want to use in a case?
Are they the sort of thing that national security prosecutors call Goldilocks documents? The type of documents that are so secretive that it’s clear to a jury that they would harm the country if they had gotten out. That’s the sort of document that would make a chargeable case for a mishandling records case. But also, it has to be something that’s not so secret that you could never bring it into court.”
The tape shows that Trump had more awareness about his mishandling of classified documents, long before the issue was pressed by the Department of Justice in May of 2022.
To call it a “bombshell revelation” seems accurate.
However, it’s unclear whether or not there would be a trial (if it’s deemed appropriate) before the election – these investigations take time, and the court system can move slowly and methodically when it needs to.
What is clear, however, is that Trump’s own words betray his defense – and this case could turn out to be the most consequential investigation bearing down on the former President, in a long line of consequential investigations.