Former President Donald Trump, now facing a federal indictment, was caught on tape admitting he was in possession of a secret military document at a 2021 meeting at his New Jersey golf resort, according to a transcript of the damning audiotape reported on Friday.
“As president, I could have declassified. But now I can’t,” Trump says on the tape, according to the transcript obtained by CNN.
Trump, who on Thursday was reportedly charged with seven counts for taking hundreds of classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago resort after leaving office, was discussing a secret U.S. plan to attack Iran in a meeting with researchers for an unrelated book project at his Bedminster resort.
According to the tape transcript, the former president then flashes a document that he boasts is highly classified.
“It’s, like, confidential. This is secret information. Look, look at this,” Trump adds, according to the transcript. “This was done by the military and given to me.”
The transcript report came hours after Trump announced that he had been indicted on charges stemming from his taking classified documents to his Florida resort after leaving office. It makes Trump the first former president in U.S. history to face federal criminal charges even as he leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination by a wide margin.
He could face a trial in the midst of a 2024 White House campaign and the possibility of a prison sentence if convicted.
The Justice Department did not immediately confirm the indictment publicly and would normally be expected to unveil the charging documents on Tuesday afternoon when Trump says he has been summoned to appear in Miami federal court.
A Trump defense lawyer said the charges include retaining classified documents, obstruction of justice, violations of the espionage act and conspiracy.
Trump shook up his legal team within hours of the indictment. He said Todd Blanche, a veteran and respected white collar defense lawyer, will lead the defense team for the case that will unfold in south Florida starting next week. His previous lawyers, Jim Trusty and John Rowley, resigned Friday.
In a shocking twist, Trump’s case was initially assigned to controversial right-wing federal District Judge Aileen Cannon, ABC News first reported.
It was not immediately clear if Cannon would preside over only the arraignment or the entire case.
Cannon, a Trump appointee, made several pro-Trump rulings that legal experts derided as legally unfounded. Her actions delayed the investigation into the documents until they were overturned by higher courts.
Trump wasted no time lashing out at the indictment filed by special counsel Jack Smith, a dogged former Brooklyn prosecutor.
“I am an innocent man,” Trump declared on his social media site late Thursday night. “This is … a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.”
Republican leaders, including most of his GOP presidential rivals, quickly backed the former president, reflecting his strong grip on the the party. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is a distant second in most polls to Trump, blasted the Justice Department for targeting the ex-president.
“Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?” tweeted DeSantis, referring to GOP bogeymen Hillary Clinton and presidential son Hunter Biden.
President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic candidate in 2024, has not commented on the indictment.
Trump took some 300 classified documents after exiting the White House in January 2021, according to prosecutors.
After months of haggling with federal archives officials, he returned several boxes. But prosecutors demanded the rest of them, prompting them to hit him with a subpoena. Trump lawyers handed over some documents and signed a statement that they conducted a “diligent search” that revealed no additional classified materials.
But prosecutors later became convinced that Trump was hiding even more documents, leading to a bombshell judge-approved search that turned up about more than 100 of the additional classified documents.
The documents found by the feds reportedly include some that described the nuclear capabilities of a foreign power and others that could expose American spies and intelligence methods. Some of the most sensitive documents were found in Trump’s personal office.
The case adds to fast-deepening legal jeopardy for Trump, who has already been charged with state crimes in New York related to hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump, 77, also faces a separate probe by Smith for his effort to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 election that culminated with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
There are also serious civil legal woes like the sprawling fraud case filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Trump’s eponymous real estate company.