In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Wednesday, former President Donald Trump claimed that he could have declassified government documents he removed from the White House upon leaving office simply by using his mind.
“There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it,” Trump said. “You’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified, even by thinking about it.”
Trump says you can declassify documents by just thinking about it pic.twitter.com/cFbQ1zclnq
— Acyn (@Acyn) September 22, 2022
Trump went on to say that his actions — taking government documents from the White House to his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, upon his exit from the presidency — somehow automatically declassified any previously classified documents.
“In other words, when I left the White House, they were declassified,” he said.
Trump’s comments contradict his previous claims about the transfer of classified documents to his home, however. Last week, for example, the former president said he had given “verbal orders” to declassify the government materials — although experts have said that this argument doesn’t hold up in court, either.
“There is case law from the Trump era clarifying how, in the view of the courts, a mere tweet or verbal statement was not enough to actually declassify a record. Further action was required,” said Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer.
Trump’s latest defense — that he can just “think” the documents declassified, and they will be — was panned by many social media users.
“If all documents can either be classified or unclassified by the president in his head, but no one knows it until he says it, are all government documents both classified and unclassified?” a tweet from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said. “Did we just invent Schrödinger’s Document?”
Others noted that Trump’s comments undercut his previous defenses of his removal of classified documents.
“The focus is understandably on Trump’s claim of mental declassifications from his Hannity interview,” tweeted New York Times senior political reporter Maggie Haberman. “But he appeared to indicate he intentionally sent the documents to Mar-a-Lago, which cuts against the ‘it was an accident’ claims.”
It’s likely that Trump’s shifting excuses will be used against him if he’s eventually indicted, former Department of Justice staffer Eric Columbus said.
“The problem with a possible criminal defendant publicly making contradictory defenses (‘I declassified! It was an accident! The FBI planted it!’) is that prosecutors can use every word and jurors will be less likely to believe whichever defense is actually used at trial,” Columbus explained.