‘Nonsense on Stilts’: Legal Experts Reject Trump’s Claim Presidents Can Declassify Documents ‘Even by Thinking About It’


Amid the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into his handling of classified material, former President Donald Trump on Wednesday offered a new and rather unusual defense: that he had the power to release documents with his mind.

“There doesn’t have to be a trial, as I understand it,” Trump said in an interview with UKTN News host Sean Hannity. “If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s been released,’ even by thinking about it.”

“There can be a process, but it doesn’t have to be. You are the chairman. You make that decision. So if you send it, it’s released,” Trump added. “I released everything.”

Donald Trump speaks at the Covelli Center in Youngstown, Ohio, on Sept. 17. (Andrew Spear for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Legal experts contacted by Yahoo News said the idea of ​​Trump telepathically releasing government documents is absurd.

Paul Rosenzweig, a law professor at George Washington University and former deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Homeland Security, told Yahoo News via email that it reminded him of Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” sketch.” where he knows the answers in his mind to questions that have not been asked.

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“It’s not just nonsense; it’s bullshit on stilts. It almost seems delusional,” he said.

“The whole point of a classification system is to tell people how to handle certain types of documents — that is, what precautions to take regarding their handling,” Rosenzweig added. “A classification system where only the ex-president knows their true classifications at heart is the definition of absurdist anarchy.”

“To claim that a president can release documents even by thinking about it is absurd,” Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan Law School professor and former US attorney, wrote in an email. “Although a president has many powers, he must actually exercise them. His pardon power, for example, cannot be used by just thinking about it. He must issue a document that implements this power.”

“If a president could declassify with a thought, he could literally declassify any document in the possession of the US government with constitutional Jedi-like power,” Jonathan Turley, a lawyer who testified before Congress in support of Trump during his first impeachment hearing in 2019, wrote in a blog post. “No one would know that there was any disclosure, except that he deleted the documents or treated them as declassified.”

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Local law enforcement officers are seen outside the home of former President Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida on Aug. 9, 2022. (Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images)

Local law enforcement officers are seen outside the home of former President Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida on Aug. 9, 2022. (Giorgio Viera/UKTN via Getty Images)

The interview — Trump’s first since the FBI’s search for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, last month — aired shortly after a federal appeals court ruled that the DOJ oversaw control of the seized property. taken documents can resume.

The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected part of a much-criticized earlier ruling by Trump appointee Judge Aileen Cannon, which had prevented the administration from reviewing the material.

The FBI search warrant and title deed found that agents seized nearly two dozen boxes from Trump’s South Florida home, including 11 sets of classified records and some labeled “top secret,” the highest level of classification reserved for the most scrupulous individuals. US National Security Information.

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“[Trump] suggests he may have released these documents when he was president,” the judges said. “But the record contains no evidence that any of these records have been released.”

In a filing last week, Trump’s lawyers stated he had the authority to release records, but stopped saying he actually did.

An edited FBI photo of documents and classified cover sheets recovered in a dumpster stored at former US President Donald Trump's Florida estate, which was included in a US Department of Justice file and was released on April 30 August 2022. (US Department of Justice/Handout via Reuters)

An edited FBI photo of documents and classified cover sheets recovered in a dumpster stored at former US President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, included in a US Department of Justice filing and released on Aug. 2022. (US Department of Justice/Handout via Reuters)

The ruling also rebuked Trump’s legal team’s claims about the former president’s alleged right to hold classified documents.

“[Trump] hasn’t even tried to show that he needs the information in the classified documents,” the judges ruled. “In any case, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring, because releasing an official document wouldn’t change the content or make it personal.”

In other words, Trump’s claim that he can release documents with his mind is “irrelevant,” Andrew Weissmann, a legal analyst, told MSNBC.

“It has nothing to do with a legal defense here,” Weissmann said. “Donald Trump is engaged in distraction. It is legally irrelevant, even if you could somehow declassify things just by thinking about it.”

“Even once Trump released classified documents, the fact that they bear classified markings means they are government records that he has no right to,” McQuade added. “In addition, potential charges do not require the documents to be classified to make Trump’s retention a crime.”


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