The tape of a conversation with Donald Trump and others made at his golf club in New Jersey has become perhaps the most critical publicly known evidence in the federal indictment against the former president.
Special counsel Jack Smith has charged Trump with mishandling classified information after leaving the White House. And the recording – parts of which were made public by CNN earlier this week – features Trump in July 2021 discussing what he called a “highly confidential” Pentagon document that contained “secret” US military plans to attack Iran.
Trump has offered a firehose of differing and contradictory explanations of what he claimed happened. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Here’s a breakdown of what we know about the document, and what Trump has said about it.
Prosecutors revealed some key details in their 44-page indictment against Trump. Importantly, prosecutors said Trump “showed and described” the document during the recorded meeting.
- The audiotape was recorded on July 21, 2021.
- The meeting was at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
- Trump attended the meeting with two of his staffers, plus a writer and a publisher.
- None of the people in the room with Trump had security clearances.
CNN and other news outlets reported that one of the Trump staffers was Margo Martin, a communications specialist, who previously worked with Trump during his presidency. The other staffer in the room was Liz Harrington, a Trump spokesperson.
The writer and publisher were there to interview Trump for the then-upcoming autobiography of Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s final chief of staff.
Meadows’ memoir, which was released in December 2021, appears to reference the meeting.
“The president recalls a four-page report typed up by Mark Milley himself,” Meadows’ book says, referring to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. “It contained the general’s own plan to attack Iran, deploying massive numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency. President Trump denied those requests every time.”
The book additionally bashes Milley for bad-mouthing Trump in the press. During the taped meeting, Trump is heard using the “highly classified” Iran attack plan to push back on Milley’s public comments that Trump tried to start a war.
Before indicting Trump, federal investigators asked witnesses about the Bedminster tape and the Pentagon document, while they were testifying to the grand jury. Investigators also questioned Milley.
The special counsel’s grand jury also heard from Martin, the Trump aide who attended the Bedminster meeting. Immediately after her testimony, prosecutors issued a new subpoena to Trump, demanding that he return the Pentagon document about Iran, and related material.
Trump’s team turned over some Milley-related documents, but said it couldn’t find the specific document that Trump mentioned during the meeting with Meadows’ biographers.
Prosecutors charged Trump with mishandling 31 sensitive documents, though it’s unclear if any of the charges pertain to the Iran attack plan. Regardless, prosecutors quoted extensively from the Bedminster tape in the indictment, demonstrating that after leaving the White House, Trump knew he still possessed sensitive government secrets, and that they hadn’t been declassified.
George Conway reacts to newly obtained audio of Trump discussing classified documents
Trump has offered several convoluted and contradictory explanations about the Bedminster meeting.
At a CNN town hall on May 11, Trump was asked if he showed classified documents to anyone after leaving office. He said, “Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified.” When pressed again on the same question, he said, “Not that I can think of.”
After his indictment, but before the tape became public, Trump ramped up his denial, telling Fox News “there was no document” shown at Bedminster, just news clippings.
“There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things,” Trump said in the interview which aired on June 19. “And it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document. I didn’t have a document, per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.”
But CNN’s report Monday about the Bedminster tape revealed that Trump told those in the room, “These are the papers,” while discussing the Iran plans. That line was not in the indictment.
After a 2024 campaign event Wednesday in New Hampshire, Trump told Fox News that after leaving the White House, he held onto “copies of different plans” as well as “newspaper articles” and magazine clippings. His comment about possessing “plans” raised eyebrows, because it was seen as an indication that he did in fact mishandle the US attack plan for Iran.
Shortly after those comments, a Trump campaign spokesperson told CNN Trump was referring to “political plans.”
Trump later told reporters he was actually referring to “plans for a golf course” and “building plans.” He also repeated his denial that he “didn’t have documents.”