A newly obtained tape recording suggests former President Donald Trump was fully aware the absconded documents had never been declassified, contrary to what Trump has since acknowledged publicly about the covert materials, claiming he had the authority as president to "automatically" declassify them. Photo by John Nacion/UPI | License Photo
June 1 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors received an audio recording of former President Donald Trump discussing a classified military document he kept with him after he left the White House, according to reports.
Investigators probing Trump's potential mishandling of classified documents obtained the audio in which Trump acknowledges he knowingly held onto the classified document, CNN, CBS News and The New York Times reported, citing sources familiar with the issue who heard the recording.
The recording was taped at Trump's Bedminster, N.J., golf club in July 2021, about six months after his term ended, during a meeting between the former president, two of his aides, and writers of a memoir on former chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was not in attendance.
Trump's voice on the tape suggests he was fully aware the absconded documents had never officially been declassified, contrary to what the former president has since acknowledged publicly about the covert materials, claiming he had the authority as president to "automatically" declassify them.
On the tape, Trump reportedly complained about news reports which said Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley had opposed his plan to launch airstrikes against Iran during his final days as president.
During the discussion, Trump made references to a document compiled by Milley that was in his possession at the time, indicating the presence of secret materials beyond his Mar-a-Lago compound, which has been the primary focus of the investigation.
The recording, obtained in recent months by the Justice Department, stands to become key evidence in the case being overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November to look into Trump's failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as well as the classified documents debacle that later ensnared President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Special counsel investigators have questioned Milley about the episode in recent months while Trump has continued to deny any wrongdoing, CNN reported.
Margo Martin, one of Trump's aides present during the Bedminster meeting, also answered questions about the tape recording during a recent grand jury appearance, The New York Times reported.
In an interview with CNN, an attorney for Trump doubled down on the former president's unfettered right to declassify government materials before leaving office.
"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," said James Trusty. "There is no doubt that he has the constitutional authority as commander in chief to declassify."
More than 300 classified documents have been recovered from Trump so far.
The National Archives received the first batch of secret papers in January 2022, followed by another set of documents that were handed over to the Justice Department in June. In August, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago and seized a trove of materials, while additional searches turned up several more documents late last year.
Trump announced his third presidential run last November as he faces four criminal charges related to the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.