Special counsel reportedly has 'important' tape of Trump discussing classified documents

Federal prosecutors working with special counsel Jack Smith have obtained an audio recording of former President Donald Trump acknowledging in July 2021 that he retained sensitive military documents after he left office and understood he could not declassify them, CNN reported Wednesday citing multiple sources. The existence and substance of the recording were confirmed by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

None of the news organizations had obtained or heard the recording, but sources told CNN it's an "important" piece of evidence in Smith's late-stage investigation of Trump's handling of national security secrets. Trump has publicly claimed he could automatically declassify material, including with his mind, and his lawyers have said Trump was unaware that top secret documents were swept up in boxes he brought with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. This tape undercuts all those rationalizations for the roughly 300 classified documents the feds have recovered from Mar-a-Lago, according to the reports.

The audio was recorded with Trump's knowledge at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey and reportedly describes a multi-page document on military options for invading Iran that Trump laments he cannot show his guests due to classification restrictions. Trump evidently brought up the document — or possibly waved it in his hands — because he was irritated by a New Yorker report that Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley had convinced Trump in his final days in office not to bomb Iran and potentially start a new war. Investigators have questioned Milley and other witnesses about the episode and Trump's anger toward Milley, CNN reported.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Smith is investigating whether Trump or his aides criminally obstructed federal efforts to retrieve classified documents Trump improperly kept when his term was over. The focus on the recording indicates he may also be considering other charges against Trump, CNN reports, and the tape provides crucial evidence about Trump's intent and state of mind. Nobody has yet been criminally charged in the investigation, and Trump lawyer James Trusty told CNN on Wednesday that Trump would have still had the authority to declassify documents when he was taking boxes from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.