Former President Donald Trump is asserting that he had previously issued a “standing order” for the declassification of documents he removed from the White House and kept in his Mar-a-Lago property — but several former Trump administration officials have disputed that claim.
According to CNN, 18 officials — some anonymously and some on the record — have said that Trump never gave such an order, including national security and intelligence officials, lawyers for the former White House, officials within the Department of Justice (DOJ), and Mick Mulvaney and John Kelly, two of Trump’s three chiefs of staff.
Many of the officials questioned by CNN laughed at the idea, and one senior official described the claim as “bullshit.”
“Nothing approaching an order that foolish was ever given,” Kelly said to CNN. “And I can’t imagine anyone that worked at the White House after me that would have simply shrugged their shoulders and allowed that order to go forward without dying in the ditch trying to stop it.”
Others noted that there was no evidence that a “standing order” had ever been issued.
“Total nonsense. If that’s true, where is the order with his signature on it?” one former senior Trump official said.
That same official suggested that there would be “tremendous pushback from the Intel Community and [the Department of Defense], which would almost certainly have become known to Intel and Armed Services Committees on the Hill.”
Security experts have also cast suspicion on Trump’s assertions. While a sitting president can indeed decide which documents should be declassified, they said, such an order couldn’t have been issued without documentation.
“The president is the ultimate classifier and de-classifier — but he can’t just wave a magic wand, and he can’t do it in secret,” Douglas London, a former CIA agent, said to ABC News.
“If [Trump] and his allies are defending his handling of these documents by claiming that they’re no longer classified, they need to show the paper trail,” he added.
David Laufman, a former chief of the DOJ’s counterintelligence division, who investigated the email scandal involving Hillary Clinton, agreed.
“It can’t just be an idea in his head. Programs and officials would have been notified. There is no evidence they were,” Laufman told CNN this week.
As part of its investigation into the documents that were improperly kept at Mar-a-Lago, the FBI is now questioning several former Trump administration officials, inquiring if Trump ever gave such an order, Rolling Stone reported. But whether Trump ordered officials to declassify certain documents doesn’t really matter, as it’s likely that Trump’s actions broke the law regardless of what classification status the materials had at the time the search warrant was executed.
“What’s listed in the search warrant is fascinating both for what it includes and what it doesn’t include,” Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the National Security Agency, told NPR, referring to the Espionage Act statutes that were cited in the warrant. “What it doesn’t include…is a statute that makes it a crime to knowingly remove or retain classified documents.”
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