UPDATE (June 8, 2023 8:30 p.m. E.T.): A federal grand jury in Florida indicted Donald Trump on Thursday on seven charges, including conspiracy to obstruct, NBC News reported.
Donald Trump’s classified documents was already a serious affair that might very well lead to the former president’s indictment, but this week’s details made matters even worse. The public learned that special counsel Jack Smith’s office reportedly obtained an audio recording of the Republican discussing a classified document that he’d taken in a rather provocative way.
Naturally, federal prosecutors wanted to see the materials Trump referenced in the recording. As The New York Times reported, that didn’t turn out well.
Shortly after learning that former President Donald J. Trump had been recorded discussing what appeared to be classified material describing military options for confronting Iran, federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to his lawyers seeking the return of all records that resembled the document he mentioned, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday. But Mr. Trump’s legal team has informed the Justice Department that it was unable to find any such records in his possession, the people said.
For those just joining us, let’s briefly revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
In 2021, Trump was recorded referencing a planning document related to Iran, which the former president took with him after leaving office. According to a separate Times account, the Republican had learned of an article in The New Yorker that referenced Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, having played a role in preventing Trump launching a military offensive against Iran.
This apparently annoyed Trump, who said that he held onto a secret war plan related to Iran, which had been prepared by Milley and his team, and which Trump wished he could show to help bolster his point pushing back against the general’s comments.
As for today’s revelations, which have not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, a CNN report added that Trump’s lawyers — in response to a federal subpoena — said in mid-March that they couldn’t find the document the former president referenced. The Times’ account said the same thing.
To just go ahead and state the obvious, that’s ... not ideal.
It’s difficult to speculate with any real confidence what happened to the document in question, but there appears to be a limited number of options. It’s possible, for example, that Trump had a highly sensitive planning document related to Iran that he ended up losing. It’s also possible that the former president referenced a classified document that he didn’t actually have, and perhaps never had.
I suppose we shouldn’t also discount the possibility that Trump deceived his own defense attorneys and hid the document in question so they couldn’t return it in response to the subpoena in March.
The problem, of course, is that none of these possibilities helps the former president as he faces the prospect of another criminal indictment.
The recording itself is a key piece of evidence. Trump has insisted that he declassified what he took, and by all accounts, this tape goes a long way toward discrediting this defense. As a Washington Post report summarized this week, the recording suggested the former president “understood both the legal and security concerns around his possession of such restricted information.”
But if Trump and his team also can’t produce the document in question, that makes a bad situation worse.