Ever since the FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property and seized nearly 100 documents with classification markings, the former president has insisted he did nothing wrong and argued that he declassified the information.
He said in a Fox News interview on Wednesday that a president can declassify content “even thinking about it.”
Trump has provided no evidence that he declassified the papers, an appeals court noted on Wednesday as it rejected his team’s legal arguments and cleared the way for investigators to continue examining the documents as they believed. whether to bring criminal charges or not.
A separate special master who inspected the documents also expressed skepticism when Trump’s lawyers hinted at the same defense earlier this week, but declined to offer any support for the idea that the papers were declassified. .
Democrats pointed out more Thursday: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted, “That’s not how it works. Not by any stretch of the imagination.” Committee member Joaquín Castro called the claim “false and absurd”.
Experts say presidents have broad authority to declassify content, but a detailed process contrary to what Trump has described. Here’s a look at how declassification works:
What can the President declare?
National security attorney Bradley P. Moss said current presidents have “unilateral and absolute authority” to declassify material, although this does not fully extend to information classified under the Atomic Energy Act.
President Harry S. Since Truman’s time, former National Security Agency general counsel Glenn Gerstel said there has been a set process for protecting nation’s secrets, including various levels of classification.
“It is extremely important that we do not accidentally release information that could cause extraordinarily serious damage to national security, especially in the case of top secret information,” he said.
How does the announcement work?
There is also a detailed procedure for declassification along with the rules laid down under the executive order. Gerstel said that usually, if a president wants to declassify something, he or she checks with the agency in charge, which has a broader say in whether the information becomes public.
If documents are declassified, there is usually a painstaking process of blacking out what information remains secret. “It is not a question of a concept being declassified or boxes of documents. It is a word by word determination,” he said.
Moss said the declassification order should be memorialized and notified to any agencies affected. Separate documents must be re-marked to show that they are no longer considered classified.
“It’s not clear what lawyers like J.D. said you can declassify things with a view, but courts are unlikely to accept that claim,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. who was a Republican witness during the first impeachment proceedings. Against Trump in 2019
The Justice Department said there was no indication that Trump took any steps to make public the documents seized from his Florida home.
How has Trump disclosed information before?
There is no doubt that at times during Trump’s administration he took positive and very public steps to make information public – especially when he saw potential political gains.
For example, his administration repeatedly declassified information related to the FBI’s investigation into a possible coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign in hopes of publicly swaying the perception of the investigation.
The information included transcripts of phone calls between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador, as well as a House Republican memo in which the former Trump campaign adviser obtained a secret national security surveillance warrant for surveillance. was charged with alleged misconduct by the FBI. ,
Those actions raise questions about why he didn’t make similar public declarations to the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago, if he wanted them to be later treated as declassified.
How can this affect the wider case?
Nearly 100 documents bearing classification marks were among nearly 11,000 documents the FBI confiscated last month during a court-authorized search of Trump’s Florida club.
Federal agents are investigating possible violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs the collection, transmission or loss of defense information under the Espionage Act, pursuant to a search warrant.
The declassification debate has become particularly heated after the Justice Department included a photo in a court of law of some confiscated documents filed with colored cover sheets indicating their classified status.
But the question may not be of paramount importance as to whether criminal charges have been filed because the classification status is not part of the laws in question.
Elizabeth Goitin, a national security law expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, said, “Even if they declassified them, it would not necessarily be a defense against the charges that are under consideration.”
More on the investigation relating to Donald Trump: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Marie Claire Jalonik contributed to this report.