Donald Trump, the former president of the United States, believes that he can pretty much declassify state secrets with his mind.
“If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified—even by thinking about it,” Trump said Tuesday night in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity. “Because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it. There doesn’t have to be a process. There can be a process, but there doesn’t have to be.”
Trump was referring to the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home for classified documents stored in an insecure location. Trump’s defense, which even his lawyers refused to make in court, is that he can pretty much declassify documents whenever he wants.
The bogus claim that a president, or specifically Trump, could declassify documents by simply willing it to be so, was first floated by Trump himself and his army of supporters in the days and weeks after the FBI revealed that documents clearly marked as classified had been found during its search of Mar-a-Lago.
“There is no approval process for the president of the United States to declassify intelligence. There is this phony idea that he must provide notification for declassification, but that’s just silly. Who is he supposed to notify? I think it’s the height of swampism to think the president should seek bureaucrats’ approval,” Richard Grenell, a former acting director of national intelligence who handled highly classified information, told NBC last month.
However, when Trump’s own lawyers were asked by a judge this week to back up Trump’s claims that he had declassified the documents, they balked and argued instead that they can’t explain whether their boss really declassified any of the documents because that would reveal their future defense strategy if Trump ever gets charged with a crime.
Many presidents have moved to declassify documents quickly for a variety of reasons, but there is a formal process that they all have to follow before it can happen. “He can’t just wave a wand and say it’s declassified,” Richard Immerman, a historian and an assistant deputy director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, said last month.
Responding to Trump’s wild claim, Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, quipped: “I know he says he’s a big ‘thinker’ and all, but that’s not how any of this works. Not by any stretch of the imagination.”
Speaking to Hannity, Trump also said the $250 million lawsuit filed Tuesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James that alleges massive fraud by the ex-president and three of his children was a “witch hunt.” The former president claimed instead that his company has “unbelievably little debt.”