Washington — Federal investigators have obtained an audio recording of former President Donald Trump in which he acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document after he left the White House, according to people familiar with the matter.
The recording — from a July 2021 meeting at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey — is a crucial piece of evidence that prosecutors in special counsel Jack Smith's office obtained in recent months and presented in grand-jury proceedings examining the former president's retention of sensitive records and possible obstruction of the investigation, the people said.
CNN first reported the existence of the audio tape and prosecutors' possession of the recording.
According to two people familiar with the matter, Trump can be heard on the recording conceding that there were national security restrictions on the memo because it detailed a potential attack on Iran. It is not clear from the recording whether Trump was in possession of the document at the time or was just describing its contents to at least three people who were present during the meeting, the people said. CBS News has not listened to the audio.
In the recording, Trump acknowledges the Iran document is still classified and he should have declassified it before he left the White House, one of the people said.
Trump aide Margo Martin and other individuals who were working on an autobiography of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were present at the meeting, the people confirmed to CBS News. The sources said that on the audio the former president mentioned the classified document when he was talking about Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, who according to The New Yorker, had fought in the last days of the Trump administration to keep the president from attacking Iran.
In recent months, Martin was spotted at the federal courthouse where Smith has been convening a grand jury.
Martin's attorney did not comment on this report. The special counsel's office also declined to comment.
Smith and his team are investigating the former president after documents with classified markings from his tenure in the White House were uncovered at Trump's Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, in August 2022. Prosecutors are also looking into whether there were efforts to obstruct attempts to recover the records, according to multiple sources close to the investigation.
"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," a Trump spokesperson said in a statement, "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."
During a CNN town hall earlier this month, Trump argued he was "allowed" to take such documents, and in the past has said he declassified the records in question, but the audio obtained by prosecutors raises questions about his defense.
Grand jury activity and requests for evidence have slowed in recent weeks, sources said, indicating the investigation may be coming to a close. Numerous former White House aides and Mar-a-Lago employees — from security officials and valets — have been called to testify in secret proceedings in Washington, D.C.
Prosecutors have gathered evidence that Trump's resort staff moved boxes the day before a June 2022 visit to Mar-a-Lago by the FBI and a federal prosecutor, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to CBS News. Trump's team was aware of the scheduled visit and held a so-called dress rehearsal for the visit ahead of time, according to the source. This was first reported by The Washington Post.
It remains unclear whether the Iran-related classified document was turned over to the National Archives as part of the months-long negotiation process between government officials and Trump attorneys, or if it was recovered during the August 2022 search at Mar-a-Lago. But what is clear is that the meeting captured in the recording occurred a few months after officials from the National Archives notified Trump attorneys that White House records were missing.
In late 2022, Trump attorneys hired a firm to conduct a search for any remaining classified documents at Trump properties including Bedminister.
The July 2021 meeting captured in the recording mirrors an instance described in Meadows' autobiography in which Trump displayed a 4-page memo to a group meeting at his New Jersey club.
The special counsel, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland late last year, is also investigating the former president's conduct around the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in either case. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who will be announcing his 2024 presidential candidacy next week, testified before a grand jury in that investigation earlier this year.
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