- Trump claimed he could have instantly declassified the documents during his time in office.
- Trump said that, as president, he might declassify the documents just by thinking about it.
- Declassification requires filing paperwork — even if ordered by a sitting president.
Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday made an unsubstantiated claim to Fox News host Sean Hannity that he could have declassified documents just by thinking about it during his tenure.
During a lengthy interview that aired Wednesday night, Hannity asked Trump if there was a “process” he went through to declassify the documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home.
Trump is currently the subject of an FBI investigation into whether he violated any of three federal laws — including the Espionage Act — by keeping documents at his Florida residence. During the FBI’s Aug. 8 raid at Mar-a-Lago, the agency seized 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked “top secret.”
“There doesn’t have to be a process as I understand it, and, you know, there are different people saying different things,” Trump told Hannity.
“But my understanding is that it doesn’t have to be. If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s declassified.’ Even thinking about it. Because you’re sending him to Mar-a-Lago, or wherever you’re sending him,” Trump said.
He went on to claim that he understood that “there may be a process” to declassify documents, but that it didn’t necessarily apply to him because he was president at the time.
“You’re the president, you make that decision. So when you send it, it’s declassified. I declassified everything,” Trump claimed, adding that he believed the National Archives and Records Administration was run by a “radical left-wing group.”
—Acyn (@Acyn) September 22, 2022
Trump’s claim about Hannity is wrong. While sitting presidents can declassify documents, there is process to declassify these documents which includes appropriate documentation.
said Leon Panetta, the Obama-era defense secretary CNN’s Jake Tapper August that there was a procedure involving paperwork from multiple agencies to get classified information — such as the files found at Trump’s Florida residence — declassified.
“If presidents want to declassify, they have to follow that process which basically requires it to go to the agencies that are responsible for declassifying that material,” Panetta told CNN. “They have something to say about whether that material should be declassified or not.”
“So there’s nothing that I’m aware of that indicates that this president has taken a formal step to, in fact, declassify anything. This is pretty much BS now,” he added.
Trump’s lawyers are trying to get out of having to hand over information about whether the documents have been formally declassified.
In a letter to Judge Raymond Dearie — who, at Trump’s request, was appointed as a neutral third-party investigator — the former president’s lawyers asked that he not have to turn over declassification evidence in case such information becomes part of his defense in subsequent impeachment. This refusal to provide evidence earned a solid rebuke from Dearie, who told Trump’s lawyers they can’t “have your cake and eat it too.”
Meanwhile, a federal court has given investigators the go-ahead to continue reviewing classified records seized from Mar-a-Lago, following a successful Justice Department appeal against District Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to halt the investigation into the documents.