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The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. 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, two of the sources said.
CNN has not listened to the recording, but multiple sources described it. One source said the relevant portion on the Iran document is about two minutes long, and another source said the discussion is a small part of a much longer meeting.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the Justice Department investigation into Trump, has focused on the meeting as part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of national security secrets. Sources describe the recording as an “important” piece of evidence in a possible case against Trump, who has repeatedly asserted he could retain presidential records and “automatically” declassify documents.
Prosecutors have asked witnesses about the recording and the document before a federal grand jury. The episode has generated enough interest for investigators to have questioned Gen. Mark Milley, one of the highest-ranking Trump-era national security officials, about the incident.
The July 2021 meeting was held at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with two people working on the autobiography of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as aides employed by the former president, including communications specialist Margo Martin. The attendees, sources said, did not have security clearances that would allow them access to classified information. Meadows didn’t attend the meeting, sources said.
The document Trump references was not produced by Milley, CNN was told.
Investigators have questioned Milley about the episode in recent months, making him one of the highest-ranking national security officials from Trump’s administration to meet with the special counsel’s team. Milley’s spokesman Dave Butler declined to comment to CNN.
The revelation that the former president and commander-in-chief has been captured on tape discussing a classified document could raise his legal exposure as he continues his third bid for the White House.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. CNN has reached out to a lawyer and spokesman for the former president.
When asked at a CNN town hall this month if he showed classified documents he kept after the presidency to anyone, Trump answered: “Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified after.”
A lawyer for Meadows declined to comment. A lawyer for Martin declined to comment.
Smith’s investigation has shown signs of nearing its end, though it hasn’t yet resulted in any criminal charges. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.
Trump was outraged at New Yorker story
The recording that’s now in the hands of prosecutors shows they are not only looking at Trump’s actions regarding classified documents recovered from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but also at what happened at Bedminster a year earlier.
Glasser reported that in the months following the election, Milley repeatedly argued against striking Iran and was concerned Trump “might set in motion a full-scale conflict that was not justified.” Milley and others talked Trump out of taking such a drastic action, according to the New Yorker story.
On the recording and in response to the story, Trump brings up the document, which he says came from Milley. Trump told those in the room that if he could show it to people, it would undermine what Milley was saying, the sources said. One source says Trump refers to the document as if it is in front of him.
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Several sources say the recording captures the sound of paper rustling, as if Trump was waving the document around, though is not clear if it was the actual Iran document. There’s also laughter in the room that’s captured on the recording.
The meeting took place well before Trump’s team shipped 15 boxes of presidential records and classified documents back to the National Archives and Records Administration in January 2022 after months of back-and-forth between his team and the records agency.
Investigators from the special counsel’s office also have asked in their document handling and obstruction investigation about other scenarios in which Trump may have shown national security documents, such as maps, to others, sources say. They’ve also asked several witnesses to share details about Trump’s anger toward Milley.
During the summer of 2021, sources say multiple people were making recordings of Trump as he held conversations with journalists and biographers.
Trump’s explanation on declassified documents changes
Trump and his attorneys have given several different, often conflicting, explanations for why Trump didn’t intentionally retain classified materials in violation of federal law.
However, there’s no indication Trump followed the legally mandated declassification process, and his attorneys have avoided saying so far in court whether Trump declassified records he kept.