Facing more than three dozen federal charges connected to his improper storage and retention of classified documents at his Florida estate, former President Donald Trump turned to an on-again, off-again ally — Fox News — to deny the allegations and play down their severity in an interview on Monday night.
The case, filed in federal court earlier this month, alleges that Trump and his workers’ efforts to hide boxes of documents in and around his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and keep them first from the National Archives and Records Administration and then, when Trump refused to return them, from the FBI.
At various points since the investigation became public, Trump has claimed the documents were his personal possessions and that he declassified all of them before leaving the White House. The indictment filed by federal prosecutors earlier this month contradicts those claims.
On Monday, Trump had a new explanation for why he held onto the boxes: he was busy and he had personal items, including clothing, that were mixed in with the boxes of thousands of documents he stored in a ballroom, a bathroom and a storage room at Mar-a-Lago.
“I wanted to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don’t want to hand that over to [the National Archives and Records Administration] yet. I was very busy,” Trump told Fox News’ Brett Baier. “Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things: golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes, there were many things.”
During the nearly 40-minute interview from his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, Trump also denied he showed classified documents that entailed a “plan of attack” on a foreign country to a writer and publisher working on a book in July 2021, as federal prosecutors alleged in his indictment. In the meeting, which prosecutors say was recorded, Trump described the document as “highly confidential” and “secret information,” before saying “as president I could have declassified it” and “now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
But on Monday, Trump claimed he was showing his guests that day news clippings and not classified military secrets.
“There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things,” Trump said in Monday’s interview. “I didn’t have a document per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.”
In the indictment, prosecutors alleged Trump was responding during that July 2021 conversation to a “senior military official” who the media reported had feared Trump would attack a country during his final days in office. Days before the transcribed conversation, the New Yorker published an article detailing the concerns of Gen. Mark Milley, the nation’s highest ranking military officer, who reportedly believed Trump may attempt to use a war with Iran to keep power as he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Multiple media outlets have since reported the “senior military official” mentioned in the indictment was Milley and the “plan of attack” was a military document describing how the U.S. military would go about an attack on Iran.
“They presented me this,” Trump said of the document, according to the transcript. “This was him. This was the Defense Department and him.”
On Monday, Trump said “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a document from Milley.”
The interview came the same day as one federal judge ordered Trump and his co-defendant and body man Walt Nauta could not publicly disclose any unclassified information they get from prosecutors during the discovery portion of the trial. On Tuesday, another federal judge, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon — who was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020 and will oversee the trial itself — scheduled the trial to begin on Aug. 14 and last two weeks.
Earlier this month, Trump pleaded not guilty to all 37 felony counts. The indictment includes 31 charges of willful retention of national defense information and others related to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators.
Nauta, a former White House valet who joined Trump as an aide after he left office, faces six charges — five connected to concealing documents and a sixth for making false statements. He did not enter a plea because he had not yet secured counsel in Florida on the day he and his boss were arrested and arraigned.
The frontrunner in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, Trump has so far preserved his polling lead despite being arrested twice, once in a state case in New York in March and again in the federal documents case in Florida this month. His business was also found guilty in a tax fraud case in December and a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse in May, fining him $5 million.
There are also ongoing investigations into his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by officials in Georgia and federal prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith, who also leads the documents case.
But on Tuesday, one poll suggested his strength with Republican primary voters may be waning. A CNN poll conducted by the firm SSRS post-arraignment found that 47% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters ranked Trump as their party’s first choice, down from 53% a May CNN poll. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the first pick of 26% of those polled and no other candidate registered above 10%.
Trump’s favorability among that same cohort of voters dropped ten percentage points to 67% compared to May, with 23% now saying they would not support him under any circumstances.
Still, his double-digit primary lead and connection with the Republican base have proved to be a bulwark against the political implications of his legal troubles. Polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight currently has his average support in the primary at 53.5%, down just half a percentage point from the day before the indictment.
“Right now, I have the best polls I've ever had,” Trump said. “People see this stuff for what it is. It's a political witch hunt.”