Donald Trump is “almost certainly” lying about declassifying records found by FBI agents last week at his Mar-a-Lago home, his former national security adviser John Bolton told The New York Times.
Trump has insisted he had a “standing order” that everything taken to his home was automatically declassified. The law, however, requires a particular process to declassify information. It’s not clear whether Trump ever initiated such a process, nor has he offered any paperwork indicating he issued a “standing order.”
Bolton said such an order was never issued — nor implemented.
Bolton told the Times in an article Sunday that he had never heard of such an order, even though he frequently dealt with classified and top secret information. The claims that a standing order concerning declassifications existed is “almost certainly a lie,” Bolton said.
“I was never briefed on any such order, procedure, policy when I came in,” Bolton said.
In addition, Bolton was never told of it while he was working in the White House and never heard of such a thing afterward, he told the Times.
“If he [Trump] were to say something like that, you would have to memorialize that, so that people would know it existed,” Bolton added.
Bolton also pointed out to the Times that declassified information would then be subject to public record requests, so it would have to be officially noted somewhere.
Bolton added: “When somebody begins to concoct lies like this, it shows a real level of desperation.”
FBI agents executing a search warrant last week removed about 20 boxes of material, including 11 sets of classified information, from Mar-a-Lago that had been taken from the White House.
Some of the classified information seized was top secret, which is supposed to be safeguarded in a secure government facility. Some documents allegedly involved nuclear weapons, which was a key reason for the urgent search, The Washington Post reported.
Because of the documents, Trump is now under investigation for a possible violation of the Espionage Act, obstruction, and removing and destroying official documents.
Other experts also scoffed at Trump’s claim of apparently secret declassifications in earlier interviews with the Times.
Glenn Gerstell, the top lawyer for the National Security Agency from 2015 to 2020, called it “preposterous” that whatever Trump happened to take to his private residence automatically became declassified. An order to declassify specific material would have to be logged and disseminated so officials would know to handle the information differently in the future.
“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 at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Times.
“It’s a logical mess. The system is not meant to be deployed in such an arbitrary fashion.”
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