The Times reported that the tape was made during a meeting in July 2021 between Trump and two writers who were working with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on a memoir of his 10 month – wow, ten long months! – in the White House. The meeting occurred at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he spends his summers. Sources told the Times that Trump was said to refer to a classified document he had from his time in the White House that dealt with plans for an attack on Iran.
“On the recording, Mr. Trump began railing about his handpicked chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, who was described in media accounts at the time as having guarded against Mr. Trump’s striking Iran in the final days of the presidency, according to the people briefed on the matter,” the Times reported. “Mr. Trump then began referencing a document that he had with him, saying that it had been compiled by General Milley and was related to attacking Iran, the people briefed on the matter said.”
Wow, and wow, and double wow.
The Daily Mail printed photos of Trump boarding a private jet at the West Palm Beach Airport bound for his New Jersey golf club. Six boxes similar to those used to store Trump’s top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago were pictured being loaded onto the plane by aides. That trip happened on May 8, 2022.
On May 11, Trump was served with a subpoena for any and all classified documents he took with him from the White House and was holding at Mar-a-Lago.
On June 3, several FBI agents and two Department of Justice officials visited Mar-a-Lago, at the invitation of Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran, where they were given two things: an envelope containing 38 classified documents and an affidavit certifying that no more classified documents had been found at Mar-a-Lago after a “diligent search.”
On August 8, the FBI served a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago and discovered dozens of boxes of White House documents there, including more than 100 classified documents that had not been turned over to the DOJ in response to its subpoena at the June 3 meeting.
So, questions arise: Why was a search warrant not served on Trump’s Bedminster golf club in the summer of 2022, along with the one served on Mar-a-Lago? Could there be another trove of classified documents that Trump is still hanging onto that the DOJ has not found yet, that had been at his Bedminster golf club since the summer of 2021?
All of the reporting on the tape has referred to the fact that in discussing the classified document, Trump acknowledged that the document was classified and apparently lamented his inability to declassify it and reveal its contents to the world. The Washington Post pointed out that Trump “understood both the legal and security concerns around his possession of such restricted information.” This would undercut Trump’s claims that he had “automatically” declassified every document he had taken from the White House.
But there’s something else going on here: Why would Trump want to reveal the classified document about plans to attack Iran? Trump apparently told his interviewers that the plans had been drawn up by Gen. Milley and complained that he couldn’t reveal the document to shoot down a report that had appeared in The New Yorker that same month.
The New Yorker reported in its July 15 issue, “Milley had been engaged in an alarmed effort to insure that Trump did not embark on a military conflict with Iran as part of his quixotic campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election and remain in power. The chairman secretly feared that Trump would insist on launching a strike on Iranian interests that could set off a full-blown war.” The magazine reported that “Milley had, since late in 2020, been having morning phone meetings, at 8 a.m. on most days, with the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the hopes of getting the country safely through to Joe Biden’s Inauguration.”
The New Yorker reported that “Milley referred to these meetings with his staff as the ‘land the plane’ calls—as in, ‘both engines are out, the landing gear are stuck, we’re in an emergency situation. Our job is to land this plane safely and to do a peaceful transfer of power the 20th of January.’”
It’s fairly easy to imagine how pissed Trump must have been at Milley in July 2021. Both the New Yorker and newspapers reporting on the New Yorker’s report compared the Milley story about Trump to the final days of the Nixon administration, when Henry Kissinger claimed to have worked to keep the beleaguered president from launching a nuclear strike to save his presidency.
But Trump’s grudge against Milley went back further than that. The New Yorker reminded readers that on June 1, 2020, Trump had “used the general as a prop in his infamous Lafayette Square photo op: Trump had marched through the plaza minutes after it had been violently cleared of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, and following him was Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a pack of his White House advisers, and Milley, who was dressed in combat fatigues, as if at war inside America.”
Realizing the purpose for which he was being used when he saw press photographers ready to take the infamous photo of Trump with the upside-down Bible outside a church parish house that had been damaged by fire during Black Lives Matter protests over the murder of George Floyd, Milley turned around and walked back to the White House by himself. Several days later, Milley apologized for the role he had played in what had turned out to be a political event to benefit the reelection of Trump.
“I shouldn’t have been there,” Milley said at a graduation ceremony for the National Defense University in Washington. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Days after Milley’s speech, Trump had him into the Oval Office and reamed him out for the apology he had issued for his appearance in Lafayette Square with Trump. He demanded to know why Milley had apologized, because apologies are “a sign of weakness,” according to an account of the meeting in the New Yorker. “’Not where I come from,’” Milley replied, as he later told associates. Milley said he had to ask for forgiveness because he was a soldier in uniform who did not belong at a political event.
‘I don’t expect you to understand,’ Milley had said. ‘It’s an ethic for us, a duty.’”
I leave it to your imagination what Trump’s reaction to that must have been. During a trip to Europe, Trump infamously asked aides when he was scheduled to visit an American military cemetery in France, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” The Atlantic went on to report that “in a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as ‘suckers’ for getting killed.”
Trump has made repeated promises at his recent rallies that he will get “retribution” on his enemies if he is elected president in 2024. Clearly, Gen. Mark Milley, who has announced that he will retire as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later this year, will be a target of Trump’s retribution campaign.
There has already been reporting that Special Counsel Smith has heard testimony that Trump retained at least some classified documents so he could show them off to visitors at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. It isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that he retained other classified documents so he could eventually use them to retaliate against people he perceived had wronged him somehow, either while he was in office, or afterwards.
Trump has long had a penchant for holding grudges and an obsession with getting back at those he believes have been somehow disloyal to him. That those qualities have now apparently put him at serious risk of indictment for withholding classified documents from the government when he was asked to return them, and then issued a subpoena for them, is such a delicious form of poetic justice, I can taste it in the back of my mouth as I write this.
The Trump tape story was developing last night at quite a fast pace. Although it is not known how Special Prosecutor Jack Smith came into possession of the tape, it is beginning to appear that he may have subpoenaed it from the two writers working with Mark Meadows on his White House memoir. It could also have been subpoenaed from a Trump aide who was present in the room for the interview at Trump’s Bedminster golf resort in July 2021. A reporter for the Washington Post who interviewed Trump in the spring of 2021 for a book she and another Post reporter were writing said that Trump had aides in the room recording the interview at the same time the reporters were running their own recorders.
So we now know that reporters interviewing Trump are permitted to tape record their interviews with him, and that Trump himself keeps a tape of all interviews “for fact checking purposes,” as the Post reporter explained tonight.
A former prosecutor on MSNBC also speculated tonight that the appearance of the tape made at Bedminster may be an indication that Special Prosecutor Smith has opened another line of inquiry in the investigation into the possibility that Trump had additional classified documents he had removed from either the White House or subsequently from Mar-a-Lago and taken with him for the summer of 2021 to Bedminster.
It is known that in 2022 Trump had boxes of documents moved around within Mar-a-Lago on June 2, the day before Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran invited DOJ officials to fly to Palm Beach to receive the 38 classified documents they turned over on June 3.
It looks to me at this point that there is a possibility that the “rehearsal” movement of documents Trump is said to have held before he received the subpoena from the DOJ on May 11, 2022, may have been something else altogether: the actual movement of six document boxes out of Mar-a-Lago to Trump’s private plane on May 8 when he left Florida to spend the rest of the summer in Bedminster, New Jersey.
What if the workers at Mar a Lago who described the “rehearsal” in their grand jury testimony were describing the gathering and movement of the six document boxes before May 8? The people shown in the Daily Mail photos carrying the documents from big black SUV’s across the tarmac and loading them into Trump’s airplane were not Mar a Lago workers. They were Trump aides, male and female, wearing business attire. It could be possible that Trump ordered Mar-a-Lago workers to move the document boxes for “practice” in a “rehearsal” to a certain area of Mar --Lago before May 8, and then on that date, Trump had his own personal aides move the same document boxes into the SUV’s, and from there, into the plane in which he flew to Bedminster.
There is one last wrinkle to the tape story. Trump apparently told the interviewers working for Meadows in July 2021 that he had a classified document with a plan to attack Iran that had been prepared by Gen. Mark Milley, and thus it wasn’t him who wanted to attack Iran, as the New Yorker story implied, but Gen. Milley. This characterization of the classified document containing a plan by Milley to attack Iran is bogus on at least two levels.
One, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t draw up plans of attack himself. Such memos are regularly drawn up by Pentagon officers as contingency plans, “what if” documents laying out a response if Iran explodes a nuclear weapon, for example, or attacks Israel. The Pentagon doesn’t like to be caught flat-footed if such disasters strike, so they always have a stack of responses to consider if such a thing happens.
Two, the president is periodically briefed about such contingency plans during daily intelligence briefings because as commander in chief, he would be the one to give the order to execute such a plan if and when the time came. So, what Trump probably took out of the White House in January 2021 was a top-secret document or documents containing contingency plans for Iran, Russia, China – you name it – with Milley’s name on it as the originating officer because as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Milley was the Pentagon official tasked as the president’s top military adviser. Of course, if Trump was briefed on a potential response to any kind of Iranian provocation or attack on an ally of the United States, the top-secret document would have Milley’s name on it. He’s the guy who provided the document to Trump as president.
Which just goes to show you that one of the things on Trump’s mind on the day he left the White House on January 20, 2021, was that he wanted ammunition to take with him to get back at those who had wronged him while he was president, Milley among them. Trump has always had an enemies list, or lists, and now we know that he had armed himself with top-secret documents to use as retribution against his enemies.
And Trump’s obsession with holding grudges has come back to bite him in the ass. What a surprise, huh?Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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