Former President Donald J. Trump claimed to a Fox News anchor in an interview on Monday that he did not have a classified document with him in a meeting with a book publisher even though he referred during that meeting to “secret” information in his possession.

The July 2021 meeting — at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. — was recorded by at least two people in attendance, and a transcript describes the former president pointing to a pile of papers and then saying of Gen. Mark A. Milley, whom he had been criticizing: “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.”

On the recording, according to two people familiar with its contents, Mr. Trump can be heard flipping through papers as he talks to a publisher and writer working on a book by his final White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump and the people in the meeting do not explicitly say what document the former president is holding.

According to the transcript, Mr. Trump describes the document, which he claims shows General Milley’s desire to attack Iran, as “secret” and “like, highly confidential.” He also declares that “as president, I could have declassified it,” adding, “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

But in the interview on Monday, with the Fox News anchor Bret Baier, Mr. Trump denied that he had been referring to an actual document and claimed to have simply been referring to news clippings and magazine pieces.

“There was no document,” Mr. Trump insisted. “That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things. And it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document. I didn’t have a document per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.”

Apparently playing down the information from the recording, he added, “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a document from Milley.”

The audio recording is a key piece of evidence in an indictment charging Mr. Trump with illegally holding on to 31 sensitive government documents, some of which were highly classified and included information about U.S. nuclear and military capabilities. The indictment was filed this month by Jack Smith, a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, in Federal District Court in Miami. The indictment also accused Mr. Trump of conspiring with one of his aides, Walt Nauta, to evade a grand jury subpoena issued last May for all classified material in his possession.

A description of a typewritten document by General Milley appears in Mr. Meadows’s book, unattributed and stated as fact.

Criminal defendants usually avoid speaking publicly about details of any charges in their case, for fear of their remarks being used against them. The interview was broadcast on the same day that a federal magistrate judge in Mr. Trump’s case issued a protective order instructing him not to reveal any evidence that had been turned over to his legal team as part of the discovery process.

While the interview did not seem to violate that order, his remarks represented some of his most expansive comments about the nearly two years that federal officials spent trying to retrieve material from his presidency that belongs to the government. The comments were also the latest in a string of shifting stories that he and his allies have offered since it became public that officials at the National Archives and Records Administration recovered 15 boxes of material from Mr. Trump in January 2022.

Earlier in the interview with Mr. Baier, Mr. Trump appeared to concede that even after the Justice Department issued a subpoena last year for all classified documents in his possession, he delayed complying with it in order to separate any personal records that might have been among them.

“Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out,” Mr. Trump said. “These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things.”

Mr. Trump also acknowledged that he did not immediately comply with an earlier request to return government records to the archives, telling Mr. Baier that he gave the archives “some” and maintaining, “I was very busy, as you’ve sort of seen.”

A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In February 2022, after the public learned that Mr. Trump had returned classified material to the archives, the former president directed aides to issue a statement saying he had returned everything to the government. The final statement the Trump team released did not make this claim.

But the draft version of that statement became a focus of prosecutors who were entering evidence and hearing testimony before a grand jury in Florida, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination for 2024, and his allies have offered evolving explanations for his possession of classified material and repeated refusals to return it. He has insisted the documents all belonged to him as personal records. He has also claimed that he declassified everything he removed before it left the White House, through a so-called standing order that material was declassified when it left the Oval Office to go to the White House residence. Former senior White House officials said no such order existed.

And last month, Mr. Trump’s lawyers wrote a letter to Congress saying that his staff “quickly packed everything into boxes and shipped them to Florida,” leaving the impression that Mr. Trump himself did not go through the material and was unaware of what was in the boxes when they were packed.

The indictment contradicted that claim, with prosecutors saying that Mr. Trump was “personally involved in this process” and “caused his boxes, containing hundreds of classified documents, to be transported from the White House to the Mar-a-Lago club.”

In his interview with Mr. Baier, the former president indicated that he did sort through some boxes after they were sent from Washington to Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida.

At one point, Mr. Baier asked Mr. Trump why he did not simply hand the material over.

“I want to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t want to hand that over to NARA yet.”


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