Federal prosecutors obtained audio recording of a summer 2021 meeting where Donald Trump suggested he should have declassified a military document about Iran he admitted retaining, according to people familiar with the criminal investigation into his retention of national security papers.
The recording was made at Trump’s Bedminster golf club in July 2021, when the former president met with people helping his former chief of staff Mark Meadows write a book, by his aide Margo Martin who regularly taped conversations with authors to ensure they accurately recounted his remarks.
For several minutes of the audio recording, the sources said, Trump talks about how he cannot discuss the document because he no longer possesses the sweeping presidential power to declassify now out of office, but suggests that he should have done so when he was still in the White House.
The previously unreported suggestion that he should have declassified the document presents a potentially perilous moment for Trump, as it indicates he knew he had retained material that was sensitive to national security – as well as the limitations about discussing it. CNN earlier reported that prosecutors had the recording.
The exact nature of the document Trump was referring to in the recording is unclear, though Trump’s lawyers believe a document classified at the “Secret” level, which referenced military action concerning Iran, had been returned to the National Archives months later, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Prosecutors in the office of special counsel Jack Smith appear to have obtained the recording around March, as the criminal investigation targeting Trump intensified and numerous Trump aides were subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury hearing evidence in the case in Washington.
The tape was played to multiple witnesses, including Martin, when she testified in mid-March after having her laptop and phones imaged by prosecutors, the sources said. The first time the Trump lawyers learned about the tape was after Martin testified, one of the sources said.
In his book titled A Chief’s Chief, Meadows recounts how Trump once recalled a four-page report produced by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley that contained his plan to attack Iran, though it is unclear if that was the same meeting attended by his writers.
But the July 2021 meeting that was recorded came shortly after Trump was incensed about news reports that Milley had urged him not to attack Iran in the final weeks of his presidency.
Trump believed that the document outlining the report to attack Iran would undercut Milley’s reported assertions, though the report was actually written earlier in the Trump administration when Joseph Dunford was chairman of the joint chiefs, a person familiar with the document said.
A Trump spokesperson said in a statement: “Leaks from radical partisans behind this political persecution are designed to inflame tensions and continue the media’s harassment of President Trump and his supporters. It’s just more proof that when it comes to President Trump, there are absolutely no depths to which they will not sink as they pursue their witch hunts.”