There is a lot of controversy lately about these classified documents that President Trump allegedly stole from the White House and held in Mar-a-Lago and that is putting our national security at risk. We are told that there is an official process that the President needs to go through to declassify classified documents and that just saying that he’s declassifying the documents isn’t enough.
Last week Politico reported on a recent interview that Donald Trump did with Sean Hannity. In the interview Trump claimed that “There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it,” Trump said. “You’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified, even by thinking about it.” The article also claimed that “Trump insisted he had declassified the documents in question when he left the White House, again without pointing to proof of such.”
What the article that Politico published last week fails to mention is that their own company ran a fact check in 2017 where they rated the claim that “The minute the president speaks about it to someone, he has the ability to declassify anything at any time without any process” as “mostly true”. That claim was given by Senator James Risch in early 2017 after controversy that President Trump “revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting”. According to Politico “Independent experts said Risch is on target concerning the legal powers of the president.
The controversy over the process to declassify documents has made it through the courts as well. In 1988 in Department of Navy vs. Egan the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the President, who is also referred to as the Commander in Chief.
“The President, after all, is the ‘Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States’” according to Article II of the Constitution, the court’s majority wrote. “His authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security … flows primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President, and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant.”
According to Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, said that such authority gives the president the authority to “classify and declassify at will.”
Aftergood also noted that the president is not “obliged to follow any procedures other than those that he himself has prescribed,” and that “he can change those”, referring to any process that the President may have to declassify documents. In other words, there is no set process that the President needs to go through to declassify a document and he does have the authority to declassify a document at will, just by saying he is declassifying the document if he chooses.
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