Experts: Leak shows Meadows “tried to cover up for Trump” — now he’s being thrown “under the bus"

Former prosecutors question why "damning Trump evidence was not in Meadows' final book"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 21, 2023 9:20AM (EDT)

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told special counsel Jack Smith's team that he could not recall former President Donald Trump ordering or even discussing declassifying large swaths of classified documents before leaving the White House, contradicting Trump's repeated defense in the Mar-a-Lago case, according to ABC News.

Meadows told prosecutors he had no recollection of what Trump described as a "standing order" automatically declassifying documents he took from the Oval Office, multiple sources told the outlet.

Meadows also told investigators that he was not involved in packing the boxes that Trump took to his Mar-a-Lago residence from the White House and that he did not witness Trump himself packing the boxes. He also said he was unaware that Trump had taken any government records, including classified documents, sources told ABC News.

Meadows also told Smith's team that he offered to go through Trump's boxes and return official records after the National Archives first raised the alarm in 2021, though Trump did not accept his offer, sources told the outlet.

While Trump's lawyers have yet to make the argument that he declassified the documents he took home in court, Meadows' reported statements significantly undercut the former president's claim.

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday echoed Meadows, telling ABC News that he was "never made aware of any broad-based effort to declassify documents."

"Meadows' testimony would make it very difficult for Trump to put forward his 'declassification' defense," tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. "He was the White House Chief of Staff, and it's hard to imagine that he was unaware of an actual standing order declassifying broad swaths of documents."

Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, added that the report "only strengthens the case further for Smith."

"As Chief of Staff, Meadows would be the most likely to know of such an intent or action to declassify," Turley wrote, calling the documents case "the greatest threat to Trump."

But some legal experts questioned the source of the leak.

"A leak from Meadows camp to make him seem more useful to Smith as a cooperator WITHOUT having to plead guilty," wrote former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, a former member of Bob Mueller's team, warning that Smith "won't bite and will insist on a guilty plea if he is to be a cooperating witness."

"Not sure what is going on with Meadows, but standing with one leg on either side of a fence is extremely risky. Easy to get impaled that way," agreed former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega.

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ABC News also reviewed an early draft of the prologue to Meadows' book, "The Chief's Chief," that included a description of Trump keeping a classified war plan "on the couch" at his Bedminster, N.J. office at a meeting with Meadows' ghostwriter and publicist but not Meadows himself. The reference to the document in Trump's possession was deleted before publication.

Meadows acknowledged to investigators that he asked for the section to be changed because it would be "problematic," multiple sources told the outlet. Meadows told investigators he did not discuss making the changes with Trump.

Trump was recorded discussing a four-page Iran war plan he claimed was produced by chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley after complaining about a report that Milley sought to prevent Trump from attacking Iran after losing the election.

"Wait a minute, let's see here. I just found, isn't that amazing?" Trump says in the recording. "This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me. As president I could have declassified, but now I can't."

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The final version of Meadows' book says Trump during the interview "recalls a four-page report typed up by Milley himself."

"It contained the general's own plan to attack Iran, deploying massive numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency," the book's prologue said.

But the earlier draft that was changed was more detailed in its description.

"On the couch in front of the President's desk, there's a four-page report typed up by Mark Milley himself," the draft said. "It shows the general's own plan to attack Iran, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency. ... When President Trump found this plan in his old files this morning, he pointed out that if he had been able to make this declassified, it would probably 'win his case.'"

Meadows told investigators that he personally edited it out because he didn't believe Trump at the time would have possessed a document like that at his golf resort, sources told ABC News, adding that if he did, it would be "problematic" and "concerning."

"Meadows had the language edited. He tried to cover up for Trump," wrote national security attorney Bradley Moss, adding that "I don't see him admitting that to Smith without a deal."

"This feels like a dust-up between the ghostwriters and Meadows," Weissmann tweeted, "with the former explaining why damning Trump evidence was not in Meadows' final book: throwing Meadows rightly under the bus for that deletion."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Jack Smith Mar-a-lago Mark Meadows Politics