Shortly after learning that former President Donald 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 Friday.
But Trump’s legal team was unable to find any such records in his possession, the people said. It is unclear whether prosecutors have been able to track down the document themselves, leaving open the possibility that the material remains at large or that the famously blustery Trump incorrectly described it on the recording.
The subpoena, which was issued in March, sought any and all records pertaining to Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to Iran, including maps or invasion plans, according to the people familiar with the matter.
As part of their investigation, prosecutors have been asking witnesses whether Trump showed people a map he took with him when he left office that contains sensitive intelligence information.
The subpoena, which was reported earlier by CNN, mentioned Milley because Trump brought up the classified document at a meeting as a way to be rebut what he perceived as criticism from Milley about military decisions concerning Iran.
The meeting, which took place in July 2021 at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, was between Trump and two people helping with a book being written by final Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
A small number of aides to Trump also attended, including Margo Martin, who routinely sat in on and recorded book interviews granted by Trump, and Liz Harrington, the former president’s spokesperson.
The subpoena appears to have been prompted by testimony that Martin gave about the recording to a federal grand jury investigating the documents case, according to the people familiar with the matter. A similar subpoena for records related to the document on Iran was issued to at least one other person who was at the meeting at Bedminster.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump, decried what he said were conclusions based on “fake leaks that were clearly partisan.”
Throughout the investigation of Trump by the Justice Department and then by a special counsel, Jack Smith, prosecutors have expressed concern that Trump has failed to fully comply with efforts to retrieve all the classified material in his possession.
A central part of their inquiry is whether the former president obstructed the government’s repeated attempts to get the material back – first through a subpoena that was issued in May 2022 and then through a search warrant executed in August at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
After the FBI descended on Mar-a-Lago and discovered about 100 classified documents there in violation of the subpoena, Trump’s lawyers conducted their own search of the compound and of other properties connected to Trump.
During those searches at the end of last year, the lawyers discovered at two least more documents bearing classification markings.
Before all of these searches were conducted, Trump handed over two batches of classified material to the government. One batch was given to the National Archives in January 2022.
The other was given to a federal prosecutors who visited Mar-a-Lago in June 2022, seeking to collect everything they could in response to the subpoena they had issued the month before.
In the batch that went to the archives, there was one document concerning military options for Iran, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. But it remained unclear whether that document was the same one that Trump had mentioned in the recording.
Even if the government is never able to find the document Trump discussed, his statements on the recording could prove damaging to him as Smith’s team moves toward concluding its investigation and turns to the question of whether to file charges.
On the recording, Trump signaled his awareness of his inability to declassify the document because he had left office, according to people familiar with the tape.
If that description proves correct, it would undercut one of the key defenses that Trump’s advisers have offered in their effort to justify why he was allowed to hold onto some of the government’s most sensitive secrets after leaving the White House. They have argued that Trump, while still in office, had declassified all the material he took with him when he left.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.