July 2021 recording concerns Pentagon document on Iran, per multiple reports
U.S. 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.
According to the CNN report, the July 2021 recording at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., was made during a gathering with aides to Trump and two people who were working on the autobiography of Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
The comments on the recording 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.
It said Meadows's autobiography includes a description of what appears to be the same meeting.
The recording has been provided to special counsel Jack Smith, whose team of prosecutors has 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.
Repeated requests to retrieve documents
The Washington Post, reporting late Wednesday, said two people familiar with the recorded conversation said Smith's prosecutors have asked witnesses about Trump's apparent awareness that the document he was discussing at Bedminster was something sensitive that he could not share or declassify after leaving office.
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, including in Trump's office there.
A lawyer for Meadows declined to comment Wednesday on the latest reports 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 spokesperson for Milley declined to comment on reports that he had been interviewed.
A spokesperson for the special counsel declined to comment.
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A Trump spokesperson said in a statement that the investigation was "meritless" and amounted to "continued interference in the presidential election."
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.
Legal headaches the next several months
Prosecutors have interviewed a broad cross-section of witnesses before the grand jury. No one has been criminally charged to date in the Smith-led probes and it is not clear how much longer they will last.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, investigating attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn a Joe Biden win in Georgia in the 2020 election, has served notice in writing to officials in that state that any grand jury indictments in the case would likely come in August. Last year, a special fact-finding grand jury heard from about 75 witnesses in the case.
New York prosecutors charged Trump earlier this year with falsifying business records related to hush money payments made to three people — including two women who allege affairs with him — around the time of the 2016 presidential election. The public did not learn about hush money payments until well after he was elected president, as the National Enquirer was enticed to not publish the developments.
A judge has set a March trial date in that case.
Before that, Trump, his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, and the Trump Organization as a whole, face an October civil fraud trial. The New York State Attorney General has alleged a fraud scheme to manipulate business records in order to obtain more favourable loan and tax terms.
Trump was recently found liable in a civil trial for sexual abuse and defamation related to a mid-1990s incident.
Despite the legal exposure, the 76-year-old Trump has announced a run for the 2024 presidential nomination and is considered the Republican front-runner based on multiple national polls, as well as those held in states that host the earliest primary contests.
With files from CBC News
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