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Judges call out Donald Trump’s declassification claims


Facing a federal investigation for the improper possession and storage of highly sensitive documents, former President Donald Trump made a bold claim yesterday.

Speaking on Fox News, Trump referenced a law that allowed a sitting president to declassify anything.

“If you’re the president of the United States you can declassify just by saying: ‘It’s declassified’,” he said.

Donald Trump could face jail time for mishandling, destroying or hiding classified documents.
Donald Trump could face jail time for mishandling, destroying or hiding classified documents. (AP)

“Even by thinking about it.”

“There doesn’t have to be a process.”

Trump has repeatedly stated those documents had been previously declassified, though his lawyers have assiduously avoided making those claims in court.

But a three-judge panel reviewing the case has responded to Trump’s claims nevertheless.

“(Trump) suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President,” the opinion from the three judges said.

“But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified.”

Former President Donald Trump's attorneys Linsey Halligan, James Trusty, and Chris Kise outside court in Brooklyn, New York.
Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys Linsey Halligan, James Trusty, and Chris Kise outside court in Brooklyn, New York. (AP)

But even if Trump could prove he declassified the documents in his possession, he could still be in serious legal trouble.

Under the Espionage Act, a person can be charged for mishandling sensitive documents, whether they have been declassified or not.

And Trump could still be charged under the Presidential Records Act, because declassified or not, those documents are the property of the federal government and not him.

“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,” the opinion read.

“So even if we assumed that (Trump) did declassify some or all of the documents, that would not explain why he has a personal interest in them.”

Even Trump’s own party has been unimpressed by the argument a president could declassify a document with the power of his mind alone.

The FBI has been blocked from scrutinising classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago by a judge appointed by Donald Trump.
The FBI said they found more than 100 classified documents in Donald Trump’s country club. (AP)

“The process is probably more complicated than that,” Senator Lindsey Graham, usually an ardent Trump defender, said.

Senator Mike Rounds said mishandling sensitive documents was a “very serious issue”.

“People can get hurt, people can get killed if it’s not stored correctly, and if that information gets out,” he said.

In further bad news for the former president, what appeared to be a legal victory last week has not panned out as he may have hoped.

His legal team argued successfully that a special master be appointed to sort through Trump’s documents to determine what the Department of Justice should be able to access.

But the special master they pushed to have appointed, veteran judge Raymond Dearie, has not made things easy for Trump’s legal team.

The FBI found many classified documents in a raid on Donald Trump's country club Mar-a-Lago.
The FBI found many classified documents in a raid on Donald Trump’s country club Mar-a-Lago. (AP)

“Let’s not belittle the fact that we are dealing with at least potentially legitimately classified information,” Dearie told the court today.

He responded to suggestions by Trump himself that the FBI had planted documents during their Mar-a-Lago raid.

Dearie gave Trump’s lawyers a week to state what items on the FBI inventory of seized documents were not taken from Mar-a-Lago.

“This submission shall be (Trump)’s final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory.”

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He also pressed the lawyers to say whether Trump had actually declassified any of the documents.

If Trump is proved to have mishandled, hid or destroyed government records, he could face prison time.

This comes the same week the New York attorney-general announced a $375 million lawsuit against him for fraud.



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