The power to declassify documents at will, just by thinking about them. That’s what former U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking on Fox News, claims all presidents of the United States can do.
“If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, it’s declassified, even by thinking about it.”
Trump also seemingly indicated he intentionally sent those documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate, an argument his lawyers so far avoided making in court.
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“Because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you’re sending it. And there doesn’t have to be a process. There can be a process, but there doesn’t have to be. You’re the president, you make the decision.
So when you send it, it’s declassified. We – I declassified everything.”
Around 100 documents, bearing “classified” markings, were recovered from Trump’s Palm Beach home in August.
Investigators are probing whether he mishandled government records, after 11,000 were found in total.
Legal experts interviewed by Reuters said Trump’s statements may backfire, as his bid to stop a criminal investigation unravels.
The Justice Department’s former head of counterintelligence found the Fox News interview highly incriminating.
David Laufman said: “Prosecutors must lick their chops every time Trump makes a public statement that is equivalent to making evidentiary admissions, like talking about sending documents marked classified down to Mar-a-Lago because, according to his account, he thought about declassifying them.”
A law professor from George Mason University said unless Trump can come up with evidence of declassification, there’s quote “no way he can prevail”.
And, if he had that evidence, his lawyers would have presented it already.
Trump suffered courtroom setbacks this week, with appellate judges restoring investigators’ access to seized classified files on Wednesday, and overturning a District Judge’s decision to wall off these documents.
He may appeal to the Supreme Court, but experts found a hearing unlikely.
The federal appellate court, called Trump’s “declassification” argument a red herring.
The FBI search warrant cited several laws, which make it criminal to mishandle government documents – not necessarily just classified ones.
Even though Trump’s potential paths to ward off the documents probe appear to get narrower, he hasn’t been charged with crimes yet, and the presence of an investigation doesn’t mean he will be.
Trump’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.