- Trump claimed that he could instantly declassify documents during his time in office.
- Trump said that, as president, he could get documents classified just by thinking about it.
- Declassification requires paperwork to be filed — even if it's ordered by a sitting president.
Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday baselessly claimed to Fox News host Sean Hannity that he could have declassified top-secret documents just by thinking about doing it during his time in office.
During a lengthy sit-down interview that aired on Wednesday night, Hannity asked Trump if there was a "process" that he went through to get the documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home declassified.
Trump is currently the subject of an FBI probe into whether he broke any of three federal laws — including the Espionage Act — by keeping the documents at his Florida residence. During the FBI's raid of Mar-a-Lago on August 8, 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's different people saying different things," Trump told Hannity.
"But as I understand, that doesn't have to be. If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying: 'It's declassified.' Even by thinking about it. Because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago, or to wherever you're sending it," Trump said.
He went on to claim that he understood that "there can be a process" to declassify documents but that it didn't necessarily apply to him because he was president then.
"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 group."
—Acyn (@Acyn) September 22, 2022
Trump's claim to Hannity is erroneous. While sitting presidents can declassify documents, there is a process to get these documents declassified that involves proper documentation.
Leon Panetta, an Obama-era defense secretary, told CNN's Jake Tapper in August that there is a procedure involving paperwork from multiple agencies to get confidential information — like the files found in Trump's Florida residence — declassified.
"If presidents want to declassify, they have to follow that process which basically requires that it be referred to the agencies that are responsible for classifying that material," Panetta told CNN. "They have something to say as to whether or not that material should be declassified."
"So there is nothing that I'm aware of that indicates that a formal step was taken by this president to, in fact, declassify anything. Right now, this is pretty much BS," he added.
Trump's lawyers are attempting to get themselves out of having to hand over information about whether the documents were formally declassified.
In a letter to Judge Raymond Dearie — who was appointed, upon Trump's request, as a third-party neutral investigator — the former president's lawyers asked that he not have to hand over evidence about declassification in case such information becomes part of his defense in a subsequent indictment. This refusal to provide evidence earned a solid rebuke from Dearie, who told Trump's lawyers that they cannot "have your cake and eat it."
Meanwhile, a federal court has given the go-ahead to investigators to resume their review of classified records seized from Mar-a-Lago, following a successful application by the Department of Justice against District Judge Aileen Cannon's decision to halt the probe into the documents.