DOJ, DNI Weigh In on Trump's Declassification Claim

Agencies say there's no record that ex-president had 'standing order' to declassify Mar-a-Lago docs
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2023 10:23 AM CDT
DOJ, DNI: No Record of Trump's 'Standing Order' to Declassify
Former President Donald Trump is seen at the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women Lilac Luncheon on Tuesday in Concord, New Hampshire.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Former President Trump's claim that he had a "standing order" to declassify documents taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago has long been debunked as "dubious" and called "total nonsense" by Trump White House officials. Now, another blow to Trump's story: the Week reports that last August, after the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, Bloomberg reporter Jason Leopold filed a Freedom of Information Act request with both the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to see if he could dig up any proof of such an order.

Leopold's search was initially fruitless: Last month, government attorneys told Bloomberg in a court filing that it wasn't able to confirm or deny the existence of such an order, due to the criminal probe underway against Trump. Things changed this week, though, after a judge in a similar Massachusetts case ruled that the agencies couldn't hold back such information for that reason. Government lawyers then told Bloomberg on Thursday that neither agency has "records responsive to your request."

The New York Times reported more extensively last year on the process involved in declassifying documents, which presidents do have the constitutional authority to do. Still, certain protocols must be followed: Bloomberg cites ex-intelligence officials who say that a "standing order" like the one mentioned by Trump would "have to be memorialized in writing and shared with the intelligence community," including the DNI. Whatever agency classified a certain document would also likely receive notice of such an order.

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In answering the question "Can a president secretly declassify information without leaving a written record or telling anyone?," the Times was clear: "That question, according to specialists in the law of government secrecy, is borderline incoherent." One secrecy specialist noted, "The system is not meant to be deployed in such an arbitrary fashion." Trump is facing 37 federal felony counts, with charges including obstruction of justice, willful retention of classified documents, and making false statements. (Read more Mar-a-Lago indictment stories.)

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