A sweeping 44-page federal indictment of former president Donald J. Trump released Friday contains a stunning array of details related to Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents, including some related to US nuclear programs and potential vulnerabilities to attack.
The following passages lay out the importance of the sensitive documents Trump kept after leaving office in 2021, and sketch out some of the actions he allegedly took to retain them. They conclude with a remarkable recorded exchange in which Trump, in a July 2021 meeting at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, allegedly acknowledges he is in possession of a secret document.
The government’s ‘most sensitive’ documents (page 1)
... As president, TRUMP had lawful access to the most sensitive classified documents and national defense information gathered and owned by the United States government, including information from the agencies that comprise the United States Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense.
Over the course of his presidency, TRUMP gathered newspapers, press clippings, letters, notes, cards, photographs, official documents, and other materials in cardboard boxes that he kept in the White House. Among the materials TRUMP stored in his boxes were hundreds of classified documents.
The classified documents TRUMP stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.
At 12:00 p.m. on January 20, 2021, TRUMP ceased to be president. As he departed the White House, TRUMP caused scores of boxes, many of which contained classified documents, to be transported to The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he maintained his residence. TRUMP was not authorized to possess or retain those classified documents.
Storage in a ballroom, bathroom, and bedroom (page 2)
TRUMP stored his boxes containing classified documents in various locations at The Mar-a-Lago Club—including in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room.
Alleged actions to obstruct and conceal (page 3)
TRUMP endeavored to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigations and conceal his continued retention of classified documents by, among other things:
a. suggesting that his attorney falsely represent to the FBI and grand jury that TRUMP did not have documents called for by the grand jury subpoena;
b. directing defendant WALTINE NAUTA to move boxes of documents to conceal them from TRUMP’s attorney, the FBI, and the grand jury;
c. suggesting that his attorney hide or destroy documents called for by the grand jury subpoena;
d. providing to the FBI and grand jury just some of the documents called for by the grand jury subpoena, while claiming that he was cooperating fully; and
e. causing a certification to be submitted to the FBI and grand jury falsely representing that all documents called for by the grand jury subpoena had been produced—while knowing that, in fact, not all such documents had been produced.
‘I don’t want anybody looking’ (page 21)
On May 23, 2022, TRUMP met with Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 at The Mar-a-Lago Club to discuss the response to the May 11 subpoena.
Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 told TRUMP that they needed to search for documents that would be responsive to the subpoena and provide a certification that there had been compliance with the subpoena.
TRUMP, in sum and substance, made the following statements, among others, as memorialized by Trump Attorney 1:
a. I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes. don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes.
b. Well what if we, what happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?
c. Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?
d. Well look isn’t it better if there are no documents?
Showing the documents to others (page 2)
On two occasions in 2021, TRUMP showed classified documents to others, as follows:
a. In July 2021, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey (“The Bedminster Club”), during an audio-recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff, none of whom possessed a security clearance, TRUMP showed and described a “plan of attack” that TRUMP said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. TRUMP told the individuals that the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.” TRUMP also said, “as president I could have declassified it,” and, “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
b. In August or September 2021, at The Bedminster Club, TRUMP showed a representative of his political action committee who did not possess a security clearance a classified map related to a military operation and told the representative that he should not be showing it to the representative and that the representative should not get too close.
‘This is secret information. Look, look at this.’ (page 15)
Upon greeting the writer, publisher, and his two staff members, TRUMP stated, “Look what I found, this was [the Senior Military Official’s] plan of attack, read it and just show . . . it’s interesting.” Later in the interview, TRUMP engaged in the following exchange:
TRUMP: Well, with [the Senior Military Official]—uh, let me see that, I’ll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack [Country A]. Isn’t it amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. 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: We looked at some. This was him. This wasn’t done by me, this was him. All sorts of stuff—pages long, look.
TRUMP: Wait a minute, let’s see here.
STAFFER: [Laughter] Yeah.
TRUMP: I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know.
TRUMP: Except it is like, highly confidential.
STAFFER: Yeah. [Laughter]
TRUMP: Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. You attack, and—
* * *
TRUMP: By the way. Isn’t that incredible?
TRUMP: I was just thinking, because we were talking about it. And you know, he said, “he wanted to attack [Country A], and what . . .”
STAFFER: You did.
TRUMP: This was done by the military and given to me. Uh, I think we can probably, right?
STAFFER: I don’t know, we’ll, we’ll have to see. Yeah, we’ll have to try to—
TRUMP: Declassify it.
STAFFER: —figure out a—yeah.
TRUMP: See as president I could have declassified it.
STAFFER: Yeah. [Laughter]
TRUMP: Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.
STAFFER: Yeah. [Laughter] Now we have a problem.
TRUMP: Isn’t that interesting?
At the time of this exchange, the writer, the publisher, and TRUMP’s two staff members did not have security clearances or any need-to-know any classified information about a plan of attack on Country A.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.