Donald Trump speaking with supporters at an event hosted by Students for Trump and Turning Point Action at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona in 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Legal experts on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim that he could declassify secret national security documents with his mind.
Trump in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity made a series of claims entirely untethered from reality while defending himself amid an FBI criminal investigation into classified documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence.
Trump suggested that last month’s FBI search of the property may have actually been in search of Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
“There’s also a lot of speculation, because of what they did, the severity of the FBI coming in, raiding Mar-a-Lago, were they looking for the Hillary Clinton emails that were deleted — but they are around someplace,” Trump said.
“Wait, you’re not saying you you had it?” Hannity interjected.
“No, no, they may be saying — they may have thought that it was in there,” Trump replied. “And a lot of people said that the only thing that would give the kind of severity that they showed by actually coming in and raiding with many, many people is the Hillary Clinton deal, the Russia stuff, or the spying on the campaign.”
There is no evidence that the investigation into classified documents Trump took home has anything to do with Hillary Clinton, who was investigated by the FBI and cleared of any wrongdoing, the Russia probe, or Trump’s claim that his campaign was spied on.
Trump during the interview also attempted a novel defense in the growing documents scandal, arguing that he could telepathically declassify 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 because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it. And there doesn’t have to be a process. There can be a process but there doesn’t have to be. You’re the president. You make that decision. So when you send it, it’s declassified. I declassified everything.”
There is no evidence that Trump declassified documents that were seized by the FBI and multiple former Trump administration officials have rejected his claim. Trump’s lawyers refused to provide evidence of his claim that he declassified any of the documents in response to a request from the special master they sought in the case earlier this week. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday likewise rejected Trump’s claims, writing that he has “not even attempted to show” that he had the right to have the documents and refused to provide evidence to the special master.
Some legal experts warned that Trump could be further hurting his case by making outlandish claims in the media.
“Oh wow,” former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman said in response to Trump’s claim. “Please let him out that in a declaration.”
Once again, “Trump imperils Trump,” wrote conservative attorney George Conway.
“Omg he’s actually invoking the Secret Telepathic Unilateral Preemptive Irreversible Declassification (S.T.U.P.I.D.) defense,” quipped Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent and attorney.
“Donald has the right to remain silent. Anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law,” tweeted national security attorney Bradley Moss.
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Moss explained on CNN that despite Trump’s claims that there is no process, “that’s not how it works.”
“Thinking it in his head to declassify it? That would be an obscenely reckless way to handle declassification because no one else in the government would know that these records, this information is suddenly declassified,” he said. “I get he’s not a details guy but these processes are what have to be followed. This is not a defense his lawyers are going to actually try to put up — they have to try and put up something competent and coherent.”
Conway on Twitter highlighted that it does not even matter if the documents were, in fact, declassified. Trump is under investigation for mishandling national security documents, which does not require that the documents be classified in order to prosecute a defendant. Trump is also under investigation for obstruction.
“All that matters is whether he concealed or lied about documents covered by the subpoena—documents bearing classified *markings,*” he wrote. “Doesn’t matter whether the docs were declassified or even classified properly in the first place.”
Some legal observers have wondered why Trump took the documents in the first place and what he might have done with them. Former FBI official Peter Strzok raised concerns over a different part of Trump’s interview with Hannity.
“Don’t focus on the crazy start of this. Focus on the end,” he wrote, pointing to Trump’s argument it was fine “sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it.”
“So,” Strzok wrote, “where else did you send it?”