Trump: There was a standing order that any documents I removed were declassified

Oh yeah? Where is that order?

Surely it must have been written down at some point. Let’s see it.

Every Trump scandal is ultimately a loyalty test for his fans but this is an especially stark example. Only the most truehearted of MAGA true believers will be willing to swallow this swill.


“Everyone ends up having to bring their work home from time to time.” As if classified documents, some of which in Trump’s possession were top secret, are business expense reports or something.

You can tell how panicked he is about his potential criminal exposure by how quickly his excuses have shifted, sometimes in contradictory ways. In the span of 48 hours, he went from accusing the FBI of planting evidence at Mar-a-Lago to whatabouting that Obama also retained documents after leaving office (he didn’t) to insisting that any classified material found at Mar-a-Lago was *inherently* declassified.

Well, which is it? Were the documents planted or did Trump bring them to Mar-a-Lago after declassifying them?

If they were planted, how is it that the Trump family failed to notice them being planted while they watched the search play out on CCTV?

That inconvenient fact probably explains why Trump and his allies pivoted away from accusing the FBI of corruption, which on the merits is far better suited to his narrative about persecution by the “deep state,” to making dubious legal arguments about the mechanics of declassification. In case it’s unclear from the clip above, Trump really does seem to be suggesting that the documents at Mar-a-Lago were properly declassified without him ever telling anyone. He did it through the power of his mind, per his inherent authority as president at the time. “[T]here’s a rich debate about whether or not a document is declassified if a president has decided but not communicated it outside of his own head,” said one lawyer at the Heritage Foundation to NBC.


Is that right? One federal appellate court seems to believe that the “rich debate” is already settled:

Vladeck wondered elsewhere whether, if Trump could declassify materials through the power of mere thought, Biden could reclassify them the same way. Once the feds began asking Trump to return the materials in his possession earlier this year, shouldn’t TrumpWorld have assumed that they’d been reclassified somehow — or at least asked for clarification on the point?

Over at NRO, Philip Klein is rubbing his temples at the absurdity of a “standing order” that would have declassified anything Trump might have had on him at a given moment:

Consider all the times that Trump was at Mar-a-Lago during his presidency and worked out of there. Are we to believe that each and every document he brought with him there, no matter how sensitive, was immediately declassified and thus widely available for people to see?

If this ridiculous policy were actually even true, it would raise a different set of serious questions about Trump’s recklessness in handling sensitive documents.


Yeah, when do we get to see the now allegedly declassified ultra-top-secret “special access program” material that the feds were reportedly looking for? And what about the nuclear launch codes? He must have had them on the premises many times when he visited Mar-a-Lago as president.

I remember the speculation during his final weeks in office following the insurrection about whether he would become the first president in American history to self-pardon for any crimes he might have committed. He considered it, according to the Times, but ultimately declined. The idea of a “standing order” on declassification known only to Trump himself is essentially an attempt to issue a self-pardon through the back door, though. He can’t be prosecuted for removing classified material, his theory goes, because he (ab)used his presidential power to grant himself inherent immunity from that type of offense.

But there’s a big flaw in that strategy. Namely, whether the material at Mar-a-Lago was properly declassified or not doesn’t actually matter to his case.


Clearly the DOJ anticipated that he’d argue that documents recovered by the feds were no longer classified. So they’re looking at charging him under three statutes that don’t actually require material to be classified for criminal liability to attach. The Espionage Act, for instance, speaks broadly of material “connected with the national defense,” not classified material specifically. The idea of a “standing” declassification is fun and all but ultimately a red herring with respect to whether he might face charges.

The same goes with lying to the feds. Lots of people have done time in prison for that despite the fact that the lies they told had nothing to do with classified information. According to the Times, Trump’s team might be guilty of that as well:

At least one lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump signed a written statement in June asserting that all material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and club had been returned to the government, four people with knowledge of the document said…

The existence of the signed declaration, which has not previously been reported, is a possible indication that Mr. Trump or his team were not fully forthcoming with federal investigators about the material. And it could help explain why a potential violation of a criminal statute related to obstruction was cited by the department as one basis for seeking the search warrant used to carry out the daylong search of the former president’s home on Monday, an extraordinary step that generated political shock waves.


That might explain why the feds took the unusual, highly provocative step of searching Mar-a-Lago. Having first asked Trump to return the materials he had and then issuing a subpoena to try to secure their return, the DOJ may have gotten a tip that there were still documents on the premises even after Trump’s lawyer assured them that there weren’t. Once they had reason to believe he was lying to them, having exhausted other avenues to recover the material, how else were they supposed to get it back?

As for why he wanted the documents so badly, I too lean towards this banal but extremely Trumpy explanation:

It’s possible, I guess, that he was selling nuclear documents off the back of a truck to the Saudis in return for lucrative sponsorship deals at his golf courses and mega-bucks investments in Jared Kushner’s new hedge fund. But the more likely explanation is that he simply felt entitled to take it, was aggrieved when the feds asked for it back, and decided to make a whole thing out of it unnecessarily because that’s just who he is. That’d be a weird reason to risk committing a federal crime but he’s a weird guy.


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