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Trump’s comments about Kim letters won’t help his legal defense

Donald Trump has claimed the materials he took after leaving office weren't classified. His 2020 comments to Bob Woodward point in the opposite direction.


Donald Trump’s affection for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has long been odd, but it was during a 2018 rally when the Republican broke new rhetorical ground regarding the brutal dictator.

“We fell in love, OK? No, really,” Trump declared. “He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

Even at the time, it was jarring to see a sitting American president gush about his fondness for a nuclear-armed tyrant who’s threatened the United States and its allies. But four years to the month later, the relevance of those “beautiful letters” has returned to the fore. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

In December 2019, after President Donald Trump had shared with journalist Bob Woodward the fawning letters that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had written to him, the U.S. leader seems to acknowledge he should not be showing them around. After urging Woodward to “treat them with respect,” Trump warns in an interview, “and don’t say I gave them to you, okay?”

According to Woodward’s notes of a call with Trump a month later, Trump said in reference to Kim’s letters: “Oh, those are so top secret.”

At face value, the comments might seem unremarkable. A foreign dictator sent private correspondence to the sitting American president in the wake of their nuclear negotiations. Of course U.S. officials are going to take the letters seriously.

But the details matter: Trump didn’t just show off the Kim letters as a trophy while trying to impress Woodward, he also included the correspondence among his boxes when he took sensitive materials with him as he left the White House.

The Post’s report added, “In hindsight, the comments by Trump show he was well aware that the 27 letters exchanged between himself and Kim were classified, despite his repeated claims that none of the documents he improperly took from the White House when leaving office, including the Kim letters, were in that category.”

In other words, when the Republican boasted in 2020 about how very “top secret” the letters were, he inadvertently undermined the legal defense he would present two years later.

Ashley Deeks, a former deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council who now teaches at the University of Virginia’s law school, told the Post that the Woodward revelation “clearly seems to help the government” when it comes to proving the possible crime that the former president “willfully” retained information that could damage national security and failed “to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.”

Over the course of several years, Trump has repeatedly blurted out comments that weakened his own position, inadvertently shedding damaging light on his own misdeeds. It looks like we may have a new installment for the larger list.