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 document at issue is understood to be classified as “secret” – significant as the justice department typically prefers to charge espionage cases involving retention of materials at that level, rather than “top secret” papers that might be too sensitive or “confidential” papers that are too low.
The recording was made at Mr Trump’s Bedminster golf club in July 2021, when the former president met 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, Mr 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.
But the previously unreported suggestion that he should have declassified the document presents a potentially perilous moment, as it indicates Mr Trump knew that he had retained material which remained sensitive to national security – as well as the limitations on discussing it with unauthorised people. CNN earlier reported that prosecutors had the recording.
Prosecutors in the office of special counsel Jack Smith appear to have obtained the recording around March, as the criminal investigation targeting Mr 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 Ms 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 Ms Martin testified, one of the sources said.
In his book titled A Chief’s Chief, Mr Meadows recounts how Mr 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 TMr rump was incensed about news reports that Mr Milley had urged him not to attack Iran in the final weeks of his presidency.
Mr Trump believed that the document outlining the report to attack Iran would undercut Mr 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.” – Guardian