WASHINGTON — US Justice Department prosecutors have obtained an audio recording of former president Donald Trump from after he left office in which he talks about holding onto a classified Pentagon document related to a potential attack on Iran, according to media reports.
CNN, which first reported on the tape, said Trump suggested on the recording that he wanted to share information from the document with others but that he knew there were limitations about his ability to declassify records after he left office.
The comments on the recording, made in July 2021 at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, would seem to undercut the former president’s repeated claims that he declassified the documents he took with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, after leaving office. The recording could also be a key aid for prosecutors looking to prove Trump knew his ability to possess classified documents was limited.
The recording has been provided to special counsel Jack Smith, whose team of prosecutors have spent months investigating the potential mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and whether Trump or anyone else sought to criminally obstruct the probe. The investigation shows signs of being in its final stages, with prosecutors having interviewed a broad cross-section of witnesses before the grand jury.
No one has been criminally charged.
The criminal investigation began last year after the National Archives and Records Administration alerted the FBI to the presence of classified documents in 15 boxes of records sent back, belatedly, from Mar-a-Lago by Trump and his representatives. Investigators initially issued a subpoena for remaining classified records, but after they received only about three dozen during a June 2022 visit to Mar-a-Lago, returned with a search warrant two months later and recovered about 100 more documents marked as classified.
According to an FBI affidavit at the time, the organization opened the investigation after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received 15 boxes of records in January 2022 that had been improperly removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago.
It said sensitive National Defense Information was among the records recovered including 67 documents marked as confidential, 92 as secret and 25 as top secret.
Among the documents was intelligence information received from “clandestine human sources” a classification which can include spies and informants and is among the most tightly-held of government secrets.
“Highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records and otherwise unproperly identified,” according to the affidavit. “Several of the documents also contained what appears to be [Trump’s] handwritten notes.”
Smith, the special counsel, is also investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election — the subject of a similar, ongoing inquiry by prosecutors in Atlanta. New York prosecutors charged Trump earlier this year with falsifying business records.
According to the CNN report, the recording was made during a gathering at Bedminster with aides to Trump and two people who were working on the autobiography of Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
It said Meadows’ autobiography includes a description of what appears to be the same meeting, during which Trump “recalls a four-page report typed up by [Trump’s former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Mark 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,” CNN reported.
A lawyer for Meadows declined to comment Wednesday when reached by The Associated Press.
CNN said witnesses including Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been questioned about the episode. A spokesman for Milley declined to comment on reports that he had been interviewed.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.
A Trump spokesman said in a statement that the investigation was “meritless” and amounted to “continued interference in the presidential election.”
Separately, a federal jury in New York recently found Trump liable for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, awarding her $5 million.