The conversation detailed on page 16 of the federal indictment against Donald Trump is so compelling that there’s little wonder it has garnered a huge amount of attention from the press and public. In that conversation, not only does Trump reveal that he is willing to show classified defense intelligence information to people with no security clearance, he openly admits that what he is doing is wrong and that he has no ability to declassify the information. That the whole thing is available on audio, complete with the sound of Trump rustling through top secret documents, only makes it more amazing.
It’s a one-stop shop for blowing holes in every claim Trump has ever made about the documents, a dream conversation for special counsel Jack Smith, and the kind of evidence that surely has other prosecutors swooning in jealousy.
However, that conversation isn’t alone. There’s a second such conversation documented in the indictment. It also took place at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. It also involved classified defense documents. What’s provided about that conversation is much less detailed, but it may be worse in terms of its threat to national security than the conversation captured on tape. Because in this second instance, Trump was talking about an active, ongoing military operation, and he was spilling this information to a Republican elections operative with hundreds of connections and a reputation for leaking.
That conversation is described in a single paragraph in section 35 of the indictment.
In August or September 2021, when he was no longer president, TRUMP met in his office at The Bedminster Club with a representative of his political action committee (the “PAC Representative”). During the meeting, TRUMP commented that an ongoing military operation in Country B was not going well. TRUMP showed the PAC Representative a classified map of Country B and told the PAC Representative that he should not be showing the map to the PAC Representative and to not get too close. The PAC Representative did not have a security clearance or any need-to-know classified information about the military operation.
Like the first conversation, Trump once again makes clear that the information he is showing is classified and that he shouldn’t be showing it to anyone. He even recognizes that the PAC representative doesn’t have a security clearance or any justification for seeing the sensitive military information. Even if the first conversation didn’t exist, this alone would be enough to check every box on a federal indictment.
However, there’s reason to believe this conversion is even worse than the one that’s gotten so much attention, because in this case the information Trump is showing off describes an “ongoing military operation.”
From the information provided, it’s not possible to determine exactly what operation that might be, but there is one obvious candidate: the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In February 2020, Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban to pull the United States out of Afghanistan. This agreement was made without the participation of the Afghan government. Trump’s deal would originally have had all troops out by the spring of 2021, but President Joe Biden delayed the timeline in April of that year, stretching the date for the last U.S. forces to leave until the end of August.
If Trump was showing off documents concerning an active, ongoing military operation in August of 2021, including getting out maps, it was likely Afghanistan related.
However, there are other candidates. It’s clear this wasn’t anything related to Iran, because Iran had already been designated “Country A” earlier in the indictment. Other good candidates for Country B might be Syria, where there had been an exchange of missiles earlier in the year, or even Ukraine, where an estimated 80,000 Russian forces had already gathered near the Russia-Ukraine border in advance of the February 2022 invasion.
Whatever the location, Trump was evidently showing off documents and maps that likely detailed the capabilities and positions of troops in the field during a still-unfolding military operation. It’s hard to think of anything that represents more closely guarded, or more vital, information.
ABC News has identified the person on the receiving end of this information as Susie Wiles, a longtime Florida political operative and a top adviser in Trump’s reelection effort. Wiles is described as “one of Trump's most trusted advisers.” Predictably, the Trump campaign is claiming that by investigating this conversation between Wiles and Trump, Smith’s office is “openly engaging in outright election interference and meddling by attacking one of the leaders of President Trump’s re-election campaign."
But it wasn’t Smith who brought Wiles into a Bedminster conference room and unfolded a classified map to show her. That was all Trump.
Exactly why Trump would do this isn’t revealed in the indictment. It could be an expression of the same hubris that caused Trump to trot out classified documents and show them off to a ghostwriter for Mark Meadows, but there could have been deeper political motives. Even as the Afghanistan evacuation was taking place, Trump was blasting Biden, calling him “a moron,” and blaming Biden for the deal that Trump had made to withdraw forces. It’s possible that Trump and Wiles were reviewing classified documents about Afghanistan to pick out potential issues on which they might attack Biden or distance Trump from perceived problems.
Whatever the reason, Trump was showing detailed information on an ongoing military operation to a woman who The Hill has described as “the most powerful Republican you don’t know.” Wiles is said to have a vast network of “Susie’s people,” and has been an operative in a number of campaigns. That includes being fired from the campaign of Ron DeSantis in 2019 following what were reported to be “some embarrassing leaks,” which DeSantis blamed on Wiles.
That makes her a less than ideal candidate to be shown maps of critical national defense operations. But then, Trump did apparently tell her “not get too close” to the map, which will surely come up in his defense.
What’s clear from the other Bedminster case is that:
There were classified documents, including maps, reflecting a military operation then in apparent difficulty.
Trump verified that these documents were classified, and that Wiles had no reason to see them.
Trump made it clear he was aware that Wiles didn’t have any form of clearance and shouldn’t see the documents.
Then he showed Wiles the documents anyway. Even though, in addition to all of the above, she had a reputation for leaks.
The only way that this incident could have been worse is if Trump had been directly pointing out to Taliban leaders the best places to drop a bomb ... instead of doing it indirectly.