Criminal Justice

CNN obtains transcript of tape that is highlighted in unsealed espionage charges against Trump

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AP Mar-a-Lago aerial view

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, on Aug. 31, 2022. Photo by Steve Helber/The Associated Press.

Updated: A recording in which former President Donald Trump discusses a “secret” document about attacking Iran is referenced in the indictment unsealed Friday that includes alleged violations of the Espionage Act.

When reports of the recording first emerged, Ryan Goodman, a professor at the New York University School of Law, tweeted: “This is squarely an Espionage Act case,” and the “law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove,” Newsweek reports. Goodman was formerly a special counsel to the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The 38-count indictment includes 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act, the New York Times reports here and here.

“Espionage” may bring images of spies and dark alleys, but the Espionage Act is broader than that, MSNBC reports.

Goodman points to Section 793(e) of the Espionage Act, which bans anyone with unauthorized access to national defense information from “willfully” retaining it and failing to deliver it to an authorized employee of the United States. Goodman and other experts looked at the charge in a “model prosecution memo” that they drafted, which outlines potential federal charges against Trump in the documents investigation.

The draft memo was posted to the Just Security blog June 2.

All 31 Espionage Act counts rely on Section 793(e).

CNN obtained a transcript of a 2021 Iran document recording and published excerpts. The recording was made in a meeting between Trump, some of his aides and autobiographers for Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff. None of the individuals at the Trump meeting at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, had a security clearance, according to reporting cited by the Just Security draft prosecution memo.

In the transcript, Trump said he had “secret” military information that he could have declassified as president, “but now I can’t.” The meeting happened after the New Yorker reported that Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had instructed the joint chiefs in the final days of Trump’s presidency to make sure that Trump didn’t issue illegal orders.

Trump said during the meeting Milley wanted to attack Iran.

“This totally wins my case, you know,” Trump said. “Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this.”

According to previous reporting by the Washington Post, the Pentagon typically prepared memos that included the pros and cons of military options for responding to foreign adversaries.

The indictment references the July 2021 recorded meeting in which Trump allegedly talked about the “plan of attack” against Iran, as well as a second meeting that same year in which he allegedly showed a classified map to a representative of his political action committee.

The indictment was unsealed a day after Trump disclosed that he has been indicted while insisting that he is “an innocent man.”

According to Politico, convictions for violating the Espionage Act “almost always lead to prison time.”

Other counts in the indictment allege conspiracy to obstruct justice; withholding a document or record, partly by trying to persuade an attorney to “hide and conceal” documents to a federal grand jury; corruptly concealing a record or document, so a Trump attorney would not find them; concealing a document in a federal investigation; scheming to conceal continued possession of documents; and making or causing to be made false statements regarding a “diligent search.”

Trump valet and aide Waltine Nauta is also charged as a co-conspirator.

See also: “Will Trump be indicted in Mar-a-Lago documents case? His lawyers see possibility, object to special master request” “Who filed phony document in Trump Mar-a-Lago search case?” “Meet Raymond Dearie, the judge picked to oversee Mar-a-Lago documents review” “Trump requests special master for review of documents seized by FBI” “Could Trump be banned from office if he’s convicted of taking government documents?” “DOJ files motion to unseal warrant, property receipt relating to search of Trump’s home” “Judge who signed Trump search warrant is targeted; critics seek ‘judgment of God’” “Trump search-warrant affidavit, released on judge’s orders, cites sensitive documents, possible obstruction”

Updated June 9 at 1:29 p.m. to report that the indictment has been unsealed.

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