Speed Reads


Trump claims on Fox News that presidents can declassify documents 'by thinking about it'

Former President Donald Trump went on Fox News host Sean Hannity's show Wednesday night, and Hannity brought up the FBI's seizure of about 100 classified documents from Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in August. Trump reiterated his claim that he declassified all those documents — something his former aides say they have no knowledge about and his lawyers have declined to state in court — and Hannity asked him the process he would use to declassifying sensitive government documents. 

"There doesn't have to be a process, as I understand it," Trump said. "If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, 'It's declassified.' Even by thinking about it."

There is, for the record, a process for presidents to declassify information, and it's more involved that just thinking the classification away. And even if Trump were right, it's not clear how his system would work, as Politico's Kyle Cheney illustrates. 

Trump is free to say whatever he wants when he isn't under oath, but that won't help him in court. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department on Wednesday evening, lifting a stay on the government using those 100 or so classified documents in their investigation of Trump and overturning a district judge's ruling that Trump's lawyers must be shown the classified material.

"For our part, we cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings," wrote the unanimous appellate panel of three judges, two of whom are Trump appointees. "Classified documents are marked to show they are classified, for instance, with their classification level."

Trump "suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was president," the judges noted. "But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified," and his lawyers "resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents" in front of a special master, they add. "In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal," and Trump hasn't even "attempted to show" he has an individual or personal interest in the classified documents. 

The appellate ruling was handed down after Trump sat down with Hannity.