Federal prosecutors have obtained an audio recording of a 2021 summer meeting in which former Pres Donald Trump Admitting that he had a secret Pentagon document about a possible attack on Iran, multiple sources told CNN, undercutting his claim that he had classified everything.
According to multiple sources familiar with the investigation, the recording indicates that Trump retained classified material after leaving the White House. On the record, Trump’s comments suggest he wants to share information, but that he knows the limits of his ability to declassify records post-presidency, two sources said.
CNN did not hear the recording, but multiple sources described it. One source said the relevant section of the Iran document was two minutes long, while another source said the discussion was a small part of a much longer meeting.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump, has focused on the meeting as part of a criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of national security secrets. In what the sources describe as “crucial” evidence in a potential case against Trump, he has repeatedly asserted that the president can retain records and declassify documents “automatically.”
Prosecutors have asked witnesses about the recording and document before a federal grand jury. The episode has generated enough interest to question General Mark Milley, one of Trump’s top national security officials, about the incident.
The July 2021 meeting was held at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where the two men worked on the autobiography. Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff as well as aides hired by the former president, including communications specialist Marco Martin. The participants did not have security clearances that would have allowed them access to confidential information, sources said. Sources said Meadows did not attend the meeting.
Meadows’ autobiography contains an account of what appeared to be the same meeting, during which Trump recalled a four-page report typed by “(Trump’s former chief of staff). Mark Milley himself. It included the general’s own plan to attack Iran, deploying large numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency.
CNN said the document Trump was referring to was not prepared by Milley.
Investigators have questioned Milley about the episode in recent months, making him one of the Trump administration’s highest-ranking national security officials to meet with the special counsel panel. Millie’s spokesman, Dave Butler, declined to comment to CNN.
The revelation that the former president and commander-in-chief were caught on tape discussing a classified document could raise his legal exposure as he pursues a third bid for the White House. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
A Trump campaign spokeswoman said the “leaks” were “stirring up tensions” around Trump.
“The DOJ’s continued meddling in the presidential election is shameful and this meritless investigation must stop wasting American taxpayer money for Democratic political purposes,” the spokesperson added.
Asked at a CNN town hall this month if he would show anyone the classified documents he’s kept since becoming president, Trump replied: “Not really. I will have the right. By the way, they were classified later.”
Meadows’ attorney declined to comment. Martin’s attorney declined to comment.
Smith’s trial has shown signs of nearing its conclusion. A spokeswoman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.
Olivier Tullery/AFP/Getty Images/File
In this February 2020 photo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley chats with President Donald Trump after delivering the State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
The record now in the hands of prosecutors shows not only Trump’s actions related to classified documents recovered from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but also what happened in Bedminster a year ago.
The meeting followed shortly after, where Trump discussed the Iran dossier with others The New Yorker ran a story By Susan Glasser In the final days of Trump’s presidency, Milley instructed the joint chiefs to make sure Trump did not issue illegal orders and to inform him of any concerns. The story infuriated Trump.
Glaser reported that in the months after the election, Millay repeatedly argued against attacking Iran and worried that Trump “could set in motion a full-scale conflict that is not justified.” According to the New Yorker story, Milley and others argued that Trump had not taken such drastic action.
In response to the recording and the story, Trump brings up a document from Millie. Trump told people in the room that showing it to the public would undermine what Milley was saying, the sources said. A source says Trump refers to the document as if it were in front of him.
Several sources claim that the paper rustling sounds like Trump shaking the document, although it’s unclear if it’s an actual Iranian document. There is also laughter in the room recorded in the post.
The U.S. Army has contingency plans and courses of action applicable to countries and situations around the world.
07:16 – Source: CNN
Honig: Trump lawyers put themselves in “a calendar corner.”
The meeting took place before the 15 boxes of presidential records and classified documents were sent to the National Archives and Records Administration in January 2022 after months of back-and-forth between the Trump team and the records agency.
The Justice Department later obtained additional documents from Trump with classified identities, seizing more than 100 documents. Searched for Mar-a-Lago last August. Trump’s legal team appointed agents late last year to search Trump properties, including Bedminster.
Investigators from the special counsel’s office have asked about other footage Trump may have shown others of national security documents, such as maps, in their document-handling and sanctions probe, the sources said. They have asked several witnesses to share details about Trump’s anger at Millie.
In the summer of 2021, several people recorded Trump’s conversations with reporters and biographers, sources said.
Trump and his lawyers have offered various, often conflicting, explanations for why he did not knowingly possess classified material in violation of federal law.
Initially, Trump associates argued that he had a “standing classification order” so that documents removed from the Oval Office were immediately classified. A few weeks later, Trump told Fox News that things could be classified “By thinking about it.”
Earlier this year, Trump’s legal team told Congress that classified material was inadvertently packed into the administration’s end. Most recently, Trump told CNN “Auto-classified” when items were picked up at a town hall.
However, there is no indication that Trump followed the legally mandated declassification process, and his attorneys have so far refrained from saying in court whether Trump classified the records he had.
This story has been updated with a response from former President Trump’s campaign.