Donald Trump went on Fox News Wednesday night to vent to Sean Hannity about the civil fraud lawsuit New York Attorney General Letitia James slapped on him and three of his children earlier in the day. The former president didn’t exactly clear his name, instead claiming repeatedly that he has plenty of cash, very little debt, and that James’ investigation is nothing more than a political stunt..
The conversation eventually turned to another of Trump’s myriad legal quandaries: the Justice Department’s investigation into the material he was — and maybe still is — hoarding at Mar-a-Lago. Trump has long argued that he declassified all of the highly sensitive classified documents the FBI retrieved from his Palm Beach estate last month, a claim so dubious that his lawyers have refused to make it in court.
Trump told Hannity not to worry, though. There need not be any physical or even anecdotal evidence that he declassified the documents, as the president has the power to do it with nothing more than his mind.
“If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified — even by thinking about it,” Trump said. “Because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it. There doesn’t have to be a process. There can be a process, but there doesn’t have to be.”
Presidents are able to declassify documents, but there is typically a procedure for doing so. It’s up for debate whether presidents are required to follow any such procedure, but the idea that they can declassify sensitive material just by thinking about it is, of course, absurd.
“Hypothetical questions like, ‘What if a president thinks to himself that something is declassified? Does that change its status?’ are so speculative that their practical meaning is negligible,” Steven Aftergood, a secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, recently told The New York Times. “It’s a logical mess. The system is not meant to be deployed in such an arbitrary fashion.”
The legal system isn’t likely to buy Trump’s claim, either. Judge Raymond Dearie told the former president’s legal team on Tuesday that unless they provide some concrete evidence that Trump declassified the documents clearly labeled as classified, he will treat them as if they are, indeed, classified.
Dearie last week was designated a “special master” to review the documents seized by the FBI in order to flag any privilege issues. The hearing on Tuesday was a blow to Trump’s defense, especially considering it was his own legal team that recommended Dearie for the position. Trump tried to distance himself from the appointment when pressed by Hannity on Wednesday. “I didn’t know any of the people involved,” he said.