Despite all the attention focused during the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and Florida residence, another of Trump’s properties has played a crucial role. , though more low-key, on the case: his 520-acre golf club in Bedminster, NJ
Mar-a-Lago grabbed headlines last August after federal agents descended on the compound and made off with a trove of more than 100 classified documents, and images of boxes of presidential records stacked there, including in a bathroom, helped explain why prosecutors chose to indict him this month.
But Bedminster, where Trump spends his summers, also turned out to be a focus of attention for investigators, a flashpoint in the conflict between prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers, and the scene of a central episode in Trump’s impeachment: a meeting in which he was recorded showing what he described as a “highly confidential” plan to attack Iran.
That audio recording, which was published Monday by CNN and The New York Times, was the latest piece of evidence putting Bedminster on nearly equal footing with Mar-a-Lago as a key location in the case against Trump. by special counsel Jack Smith. Previously unreported details of the investigation show that prosecutors working for Smith requested surveillance footage of Bedminster, just as they did Mar-a-Lago, and fought a pitched battle with Trump’s lawyers late in the year. past about the best way to search. New Jersey property.
At one point in early fall last year, investigators came to discuss the execution of a search warrant in Bedminster, according to two people briefed on the matter. Investigators were concerned that more documents were hidden in the club and that the only way to account for them was to search the property. But one of the people said the Justice Department lacked probable cause to obtain an injunction from a judge.
Discussions about the warrant came as Jay Bratt, the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official, told Trump’s legal team that prosecutors believed Trump still had more classified materials in his possession.
Trump acquired Bedminster in 2002 and uses it as a seasonal escape from both New York and South Florida. The property’s role as a summer getaway made a cameo appearance in the indictment brought by Smith: Prosecutors said Trump’s co-defendant in the case, Walt Nauta, loaded boxes of Mar-a-Lago onto a plane “that Trump flew and his family north for the summer” the same day Mr. Bratt showed up in Florida to pick up all the remaining classified documents there.
As for the recording of Mr. Trump, it was made in Bedminster in July 2021 during a meeting attended by two of his aides, identified by people with knowledge of the matter as Margo Martin and Liz Harrington, who attended some of the assistants to Mr. Trump’s book interviews that summer, as well as those of an editor and writer working on a memoir for Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff.
In the recording, Trump can be heard going through papers and describing to his guests a “secret” plan regarding Iran that he said had been crafted by General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Department defense. Mr. Trump was describing the document in an effort to refute a account that General Milley feared he would have to prevent him from fabricating a crisis with Iran in the period after Trump lost his re-election bid in late 2020.
“This totally wins my case, you know,” Trump says, adding that the documents he was apparently showing were “highly confidential” and “secret”.
One of the women heard speaking on the recording was Ms. Harrington, three people with knowledge of the matter said. Harrington, one of Trump’s most aggressive supporters on Twitter, did not respond to questions about whether she is one of the speaking voices on the recording, as Trump appears to hold up a piece of paper.
Mrs. Harrington; Ms. Martin, who worked for Trump in the White House; and the other participants in the meeting could be important witnesses if Trump’s case goes to trial, as they can provide first-hand descriptions of what he was showing while discussing the Iran plan. A lawyer for Ms Martin declined to comment.
People close to Trump have suggested that the recording does not specify whether Trump actually showed a confidential document to anyone, telling Fox News’ Bret Baier last week that “there was no document.” However, the indictment clearly states on the first few pages that he produced a document, a claim that appears to be supported by his own words captured on the recording.
On Tuesday, in an interview with Fox News, he maintained that there was nothing against what Mr. Baier had told him.
“I said it very clearly: I had a desk full of many papers, mostly newspaper articles, copies of magazines, copies of different plans, copies of stories, having to do with many, many subjects, and what was said was absolutely fine,” Trump said. “I don’t do things wrong. I do things well. I am a legitimate person.”
in a interview with Semafor and ABC News aboard his private jet later Tuesday, Trump again insisted he did not have any classified documents in the Bedminster meeting, called his comments simply “bluster” and offered a new explanation of what the documents might have been and why he had mentioned “plans” to Fox News.
“Did I use the word plans?” he said. “What I mean is magazines, newspapers, building plans. He had building plans. You know, construction plans? He had plans for a golf course.”
Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, said the full context of the recording showed the former president did “nothing wrong at all.”
Shortly after the Bedminster meeting, people in Trump’s orbit realized something unusual had happened, according to a person with knowledge of the events.
The indictment describes Trump’s meeting with the people working on the book and members of their staff, “none of whom possessed security clearance.” It also says that Trump “showed and described a ‘plan of attack.'”
Meadows’ book contains a reference to a document he says Trump said General Milley had typed himself.
“The president recalls a four-page typewritten report by Mark Milley himself,” Meadows’ book says. “It contained the general’s own plan to attack Iran, deploying large numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency. President Trump denied those requests each time.”
People close to General Milley have denied that he called for an attack on Iran.
Mr. Smith’s indictment suggests that prosecutors obtained a large amount of surveillance camera footage from Mar-a-Lago, some of which shows Mr. Nauta, Mr. Trump’s co-defendant and personal assistant, moving boxes inside. and out of a storage room. in the basement of the complex.
The movement of those boxes, carried out at Trump’s request, prosecutors say, is at the center of a conspiracy charge that accuses Trump and Nauta of obstructing government efforts to recover all the classified materials Trump took with him. him from the White House.
But prosecutors also issued at least one subpoena for the Bedminster surveillance camera footage, according to two people familiar with the matter. The subpoena for that footage came some time after the government requested the Mar-a-Lago footage, the people said, though it’s unclear what the footage shows or precisely why prosecutors wanted to get it.
One thing is for sure, though: Even after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, Bratt and his team remained concerned that Trump was still clinging to classified documents in violation of a subpoena for them that the government had. issued three months earlier. Prosecutors then contacted Trump’s representatives in September, a month after the Mar-a-Lago search, to give the former president another chance to return any relevant materials, according to sealed court documents described to The Times.
At first, Trump’s lawyers refused to conduct any further searches of his properties or provide an affidavit certifying that everything had been turned over, the court documents say, according to a person briefed on their contents. In refusing, the lawyers questioned the scope and validity of the initial subpoena and argued that Trump’s presidential office could incriminate itself if more classified documents were discovered and returned.
The government responded by filing a motion to enforce the original subpoena, and a hearing was scheduled for the end of October before Judge Beryl A. Howell, who was then the chief judge in the Federal District Court in Washington.
One of Trump’s former lawyers, Timothy Parlatore, has since suggested that Boris Epshteyn, another lawyer close to Trump, “attempted to interfere” with searches commissioned by Trump’s legal team at the time. Parlatore made the comments about Epshteyn in a CNN interview last month in which he cited his differences with Epshteyn as a key reason he had stepped down from representing Trump. (He later said that Mr. Epshteyn did not commit any “misconduct” and called it a disagreement.)
Minutes before the hearing in front of Judge Howell, Mr Parlatore alerted her and the government that a team of military-trained professionals had searched Bedminster for classified materials just days before. They were supervised by another of Trump’s lawyers at the time, James Trusty.
But the Justice Department, according to court documents described by people familiar with them, was not impressed. Prosecutors complained that the search was limited to certain areas of Bedminster and was not accompanied by an affidavit detailing which parts of the club had been searched.
Ultimately, Judge Howell ruled in favor of the government, ordering Trump’s lawyers to provide an affidavit as to which parts of Bedminster had been searched. He also told the lawyers to make available a “custodian of records” from Trump’s presidential office to testify about the search before a grand jury.
ben protest, William K. Rashbaum and adam goldman contributed reporting.