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After then-President Donald Trump shared with journalist Bob Woodward in December 2019 the flattering letters written to him by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the US leader appears to be acknowledging that he shouldn’t peddle them.
After telling Woodward to “treat them with respect,” Trump warned in an interview, “and don’t say I gave them to you, okay?”
“But I’ll let you see them,” Trump adds. “I don’t want you to have them all.”
A month later, in January 2020, Woodward urged Trump in a phone call to also let him see the letters Trump wrote to Kim. “Oh, they’re so top secret,” Trump says, according to recordings of the call that Woodward took and highlighted in a new audio book, “The Trump Tapes: Bob Woodward’s Twenty Interviews with President Trump.”
With hindsight, Trump’s comments show that he was aware that the 27 letters exchanged between him and Kim were classified, despite his repeated claims that none of the documents he left abusive upon his departure from office from the White House, including the Kim letters, was classified in that category. The FBI and Justice Department conducted a court-authorized search of Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club and residence earlier this year. 103 classified documents and about 11,000 non-classified documents were found as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of sensitive materials.
The new details also provide further evidence of Trump’s ongoing obsession with the Kim letters, which he often bragged about and showed off to friends. The English translations of the letters, which Woodward includes as an appendix to a written transcript of the audiobook, reveal page after page of gracious pen pals – birthday messages, “best wishes” for friends and family – between the then president and the autocratic leader of one of the world’s most repressive regimes .
The audiobook, out next Tuesday, contains 19 raw and lengthy interviews Woodward conducted with Trump between fall 2019 and August 2020 for his book Rage, as well as an interview he conducted in 2016 with Washington Post reporter Robert Costa , has led. The interviews, says Woodward in his introduction, were only edited for reasons of clarity.
During the December 2019 interview, Trump asks Woodward what he did with the letters he had provided to him at the time and asks if he “made a photocopy of them or something” — apparently in reference to a photocopy.
“No, I dictated them into a tape recorder,” replies Woodward, much to Trump’s amusement.
In an interview with The Post ahead of the audiobook’s release, Woodward said Trump helped him set him up with an assistant in the west wing, who was supervising as Woodward — who received both the English translations and the original Korean versions of Kim’s letters to Trump had – handled the documents and dictated them all into his tape recorder.
Later, after Trump agreed to pass his letters on to Kim, Woodward said he returned to an office in the west wing, where an employee again watched as he read the new letters into his tape recorder.
In the interview, Woodward also said he did not notice any classified markings on any of the letters he received, although US officials have indicated that they were classified documents.
In a marginal note in the audio book, Woodward describes “the casual, dangerous manner in which Trump handles the most classified programs and information as we have now seen in the year 2022 at Mar-a-Lago where he had 184 classified documents, including 25 marked ‘Top Secret’.”
This was in reference to Trump implying that there was a secret weapons system that he controlled. “I built a weapon system that no one had before in this country,” Trump said in an interview, before referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. “We have things you haven’t even seen or heard of. We have things that Putin and Xi have never heard of before.”
Trump’s long obsession with strong leaders — and Kim in particular — comes through in the interviews. During their talks, Trump repeats the false claim that former President Barack Obama tried to reach Kim 11 times and failed.
Woodward points out that Trump’s own military advisers have warned him that Kim is “lying to you through his teeth” and that Obama has made no attempts to speak to Kim himself.
“Kim Jong Un gave you bad information on that,” Woodward once told Trump. “I don’t think that’s true.”
But Trump is unconvinced and chooses to believe Kim rather than his own advisers.
“Obama called 11 times,” Trump said. “They showed me the records in Korea. I am very close to this man. Very close.”
In a later interview, Trump boasts of averting a war with North Korea by again repeating his false claim about Obama and choosing to believe Kim more than his own military team: “Obama wanted, he tried 11 times,” says Trump. “Kim Jong Un told me. Eleven times.”
Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.