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Trump’s docs case complicated by behind-the-scenes tapes

Investigators have a recording of Trump talking about a classified document he took. That evidence is not good for his defense.


It was six years ago this week when former FBI Director James Comey prepared to testify to the Senate about a highly provocative topic: He was poised to talk under oath about his conversations with Donald Trump about the Russia scandal. The then-president turned to Twitter to suggest there might’ve been secret tape recordings of their conversations.

As it turns out, Trump had simply made all of this up, but Comey made clear he wished the threats were true. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” he told senators.

The phrase had nothing to do with Trump’s classified documents scandal, of course, though as the criminal investigation has unfolded, plenty of the former president’s critics have probably thought to themselves, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” It was against this backdrop that multiple news organizations published reports on the existence of — you guessed it — relevant tapes.

NBC News reported on Thursday:

Special counsel Jack Smith's office has obtained a recording of former President Donald Trump discussing a classified planning document that he had taken from his time at the White House, a source directly familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The planning document Trump kept was related to Iran, the source said, and the former president acknowledged on the tape that it was classified.

The recording, made in 2021, was played during testimony provided to the grand jury that has been investigating Trump's handling of classified documents, the source added.

The Washington Post's reported that the recording suggested the former president “understood both the legal and security concerns around his possession of such restricted information.”

CNN, which was the first to report the news about the recording, noted the recording would appear to undercut Trump’s claims that he declassified the materials he took and refused to give back: “The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House. ... 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.”

A New York Times report added that the Republican, as part of the reporting, began by whining about Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this article in The New Yorker, which referenced Milley having played a role in preventing Trump launching a military offensive against Iran.

If the latest reporting is accurate, it apparently led Trump to say that he had a secret war plan related to Iran — which the former president had with him — that had been prepared by Milley and his team, and which Trump wished he could show to help bolster his point.

“Mr. Trump can be heard handling paper on the tape,” the Times added, “though it is not clear whether it was the document in question.”

As for the question as to who might’ve made such a recording, the Times’ report went on to note that Margo Martin, a Trump communications aide, “routinely taped” interviews the former president gave for books being written about him that year. Martin was also among the witnesses who’ve testified before the grand jury hearing evidence in this case.

To just go ahead and state the obvious, this recording, if the accounts are accurate, will make the former president’s defense vastly more difficult.