Federal prosecutors obtained an audio recording in which former President Donald Trump admits retaining a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, raising the threat of a potential indictment in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, according to CNN.
The recording indicates that Trump knew he kept classified material. The former president suggests in the audio that he wants to share the information but is unable due to the classification, undercutting his claims that he “declassified” the documents he took home.
The recording includes about two minutes of Trump talking about the Iran document, according to the report, but is part of a much longer meeting. Special counsel Jack Smith has focused on the meeting as part of the Mar-a-Lago probe and sources told CNN it is an “important” piece of evidence in a possible case against the former president.
Prosecutors have also questioned witnesses about the recording, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
The meeting took place in July 2021 at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf course with two people working on former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ autobiography and Trump aides including communications specialist Margo Martin, according to the report. The individuals did not have security clearance required to see classified material.
Martin, who recorded the conversation, according to The Guardian, was asked about the recording during a grand jury appearance after having her laptop and phones imaged by prosecutors. Her March testimony was the first time Trump’s lawyers learned about the recording, a source told the outlet.
Meadows’ autobiography describes the 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.”
The document was not actually produced by MIlley, according to CNN.
Trump in the meeting was angry about news reports that Milley urged him not to attack Iran in the final days of his presidency and appeared to believe the document would undercut Milley’s reported statements.
A Trump spokesman decried the “leaks” in the investigation.
“The DOJ’s continued interference in the presidential election is shameful and this meritless investigation should cease wasting the American taxpayer’s money on Democrat political objectives,” the spokesman told the network.
Trump attorney Jim Trusty insisted in an interview with CNN that Trump had the authority to declassify the documents on the flight from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.
“When he left for Mar-a-Lago with boxes of documents that other people packed for him that he brought, he was the commander in chief. There is no doubt that he has the constitutional authority as commander in chief to declassify,” he said, before declining to say whether Trump had declassified the Iran document in question.
Trump lawyer Jim Trusty says on CNN that Trump can prove he declassified documents when he left the White House — but the smirk on Trusty's face when he says this sorta gives away the game pic.twitter.com/kUvKE75JeB— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 1, 2023
In fact, Trump at the meeting suggested that he should have declassified the document, which is reportedly classified as “secret,” sources told The Guardian.
Legal experts said the recording undercuts Trump’s declassification claims — and raises the possibility that he will be charged under the Espionage Act.
“War plans are among the most highly classified documents. Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict,” tweeted New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman, a former Pentagon lawyer.
“Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case. It is not simply an ‘obstruction’ case,” he wrote. “There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove.”
6. The recording also appears to knock a hole in already very weak (non-defense) defense of declassification:— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) May 31, 2023
"On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records."
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller’s team, said the recording was devastating for the former president’s case.
“If this reporting is true — and I’m trying not to use hyperbole — this is game over. There is no way that he will not be charged,” he told MSNBC.
Weissmann added that the document “is of the most sensitive types of classified information, which is war plans involving potential attack on Iran.
“So, from every single aspect of this, if this report is accurate and there is this tape recording, there will be an indictment, and it is hard to see how, given all the evidence that we’ve been talking about, that there will not be a conviction here,” he said.
"We're seeing all the signs that Jack Smith is doing exactly what he is trained to do, which is to really lock everything in so that he can win the case, beyond a reasonable doubt, unanimously. We're essentially just waiting…" – @AWeissmann_ w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/G6aN89uNaV— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) May 31, 2023
Former federal prosecutor Maya Wiley told MSNBC the “explosive” recording is “the last nail in a coffin that already has a whole lot of nails in it.”
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance told the network that it would be “unbelievably powerful to play a tape recording for a jury and to have them hear the defendants essentially confess that he knew that he could not declassify information on the spot.”
Conservative attorney George Conway, a frequent Trump critic, mocked the president for risking potential federal charges over his personal gripes.
“It would actually be perfect for the most colossally nihilistic moron the world has ever seen to go to prison for doing something so brazenly illegal,” he tweeted, “yet at the same time so unimaginably pointless and stupid.”
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