President Donald Trump delivered a dramatic account of the airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, joked that he doesn't care if construction projects kill all the rattlesnakes and noted his indifference to the budget during a private dinner with deep-pocketed donors Friday night at Mar-a-Lago, according to audio files obtained by The Washington Post.
Trump, his tone subdued and conversational, explained his motivation for attacking Soleimani and recounted listening to an anonymous military official countdown to the January 3 strike.
The president said nothing about an "imminent attack" on US interests or threats to four US embassies as he previously had to justify the unilateral military strike that escalated tensions in the region and opened debate on presidential war powers.
Instead, he spoke broadly about Soleimani as "the father of the roadside bomb" responsible for "every young, beautiful man or woman who see walking around with no legs, no arms." Trump said he heard about two weeks ago that the United States had Soleimani under surveillance and he was "talking about bad stuff".
"He was saying bad things about our country, like we're going to attack, we're going to kill your people. I said, 'listen, how much of this s--- do we have to listen to, right?'" Trump said to applause from the donor crowd.
Trump went on to describe those final minutes before the strike, watching and listening from the Situation Room.
"'Sir, they have two minutes and 11 seconds.' No emotion. 'two minutes and 11 seconds to live, sir. They're in the car, they're in an armoured vehicle. Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir. 30 seconds. 10, 9, 8 ...' Then all of a sudden, boom."
The official on the line told the president Soleimani and the Iraqi military leader he was meeting with were "gone" and then hung up, according to Trump.
"I said, 'Where is this guy?' " Trump said. "That was the last I heard from him."
In a separate audio clip, Trump is heard boasting about increasing the defence budget by $2.5 trillion. To those who criticised his spending and the growing national debt, Trump said, "Who the hell cares about the budget? We're going to have a country."
For most of Barack Obama's time in office, Republicans seemed to care very much about the budget, making fears around the national debt and deficit their top talking point. They've backed off those concerns under Trump.
The audio files, obtained by The Post, came in four short segments, and each cuts off mid sentence or midpoint.
In the 40-second clip about the military budget, Trump said, "It's been an incredible period of time and that's despite the witch hunt ..." before the audio cuts out.
In another short file, Trump laments the complicated process to build infrastructure, mocking environmental concerns, specifically mentioning turtle and rattlesnake nesting.
"As far as I'm concerned, you can kill those rattlesnakes. I'll give you a little secret. As many as we kill, they'll be here long after us. The rattlesnake. You can kill every son of a b------ rattlesnake," he said.
Then Trump segues to, "I'm not a big person who believes in sharks too much ...," before the audio file ends.
Trump is famously terrified of sharks. He has tweeted about his disdain for them and Stormy Daniels, who allegedly had an affair with Trump, said he was obsessed with sharks and once told her, "I hope all the sharks die."