Presidents can declassify documents “even if they’re thinking about it,” former President Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that aired Wednesday night.
The former president has insisted that the dozens of documents with classification markers that the FBI discovered at Mar-a-Lago were actually declassified. But Trump’s lawyers have resisted a request for information from special expert Raymond Dearie, the independent arbitrator tasked with inspecting the seized documents, about whether those records were declassified by the former president. trump’s lawyersthat such disclosure went beyond District Judge Aileen Cannon’s order and could be part of Trump’s defense, if he is charged in the future.
But Dearie said if Trump’s lawyers don’t claim the records have been declassified, and the Justice Department makes a legitimate case that they remain classified, then “as far as I’m concerned, it’s over.” And on Wednesday night, the Trump team was dealt another blow when a federal appeals court granted a Justice Department request to allow investigatorswith classification marks that were seized by the FBI.
In Trump’s interview on “Hannity,” taped before the appeals court ruling, Trump claimed he had “declassified everything” and that presidents can do it by simply “thinking about it.”
“There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it,” Trump told Hannity. “You know, there are different people who say different things, but from what I understand, it doesn’t have to be that way: 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 it to Mar-a-Lago or 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 that decision. So when you send it, it’s declassified . I declassified everything.”
Presidents have broad authority to declassify records, but there is a process that is usually followed.
Usually a presidentthey are first written down in a memorandum, usually drawn up by White House lawyers, which the president would then sign. The relevant agencies are then usually consulted and when a final decision is made, the agency in question would mark the document, with its old classification level crossed out and stamped, “Declassified on X date”.
Trump’s handling of classified documents “concerned” his former national security adviser, John Bolton. The fact that Trump wanted to withhold sensitive documents worried Bolton, Bolton told CBS News in an interview last month.
“My concern was that he didn’t feel the confidentiality of much of this information was as important as we knew it was,” Bolton said. “It just didn’t register with him that safeguarding this information was for his own good, and because of the risk to sources and methods of obtaining intelligence, he could be in jeopardy.”
In the end, it may be up to the courts to decide how broad a sitting president’s declassification powers may be.
— Olivia Gazis of CBS News contributed to this report.