In the days following the FBI’s unprecedented raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida in search of classified documents, the former president and his team insisted there had been a “standing order” to automatically declassify any documents that were removed from the Oval Office of the White House.
Several former Trump administration officials have now come forward to dispute that claim, however, and denied that any such order was ever issued, much less that it would have been followed or kept secret for long, the Washington Examiner reported.
The disputed narrative about declassification orders is the latest development in the federal investigation into whether Trump may have violated the Espionage Act, criminally mishandled government records, and obstructed justice.
Trump claims he had a “standing order” to declassify certain documents
It was on Friday that Just the News reported that former President Trump and his team asserted that none of the documents recovered from his residence by the FBI were actually classified, regardless of any markings to the contrary, due to a supposed “standing order” to automatically declassify any documents that were removed from the Oval Office.
“He had a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken into the residence were deemed to be declassified,” Trump’s office said in a statement. “The power to classify and declassify documents rests solely with the President of the United States. The idea that some paper-pushing bureaucrat, with classification authority delegated BY THE PRESIDENT, needs to approve of declassification is absurd.”
The outlet noted that there are generally strict procedures when it comes to classifying and declassifying government documents, but also pointed out that an executive order by former President Barack Obama had explicitly exempted the president, vice president, and their immediate designees from having to go through those rigorous declassification procedures in certain circumstances.
“Standing order” claim denied
CNN reported Thursday that the “standing order” claim from former President Trump was hotly disputed by no less than 18 former top officials in his administration, some of whom used descriptive words like “bulls–t,” “fiction,” “laughable,” “ludicrous,” “nonsense,” and “ridiculous,” among other choice phrases to debunk that assertion on standing declassification orders.
“Nothing approaching an order that foolish was ever given,” John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff from 2017 to 2019, said. “And I can’t imagine anyone that worked at the White House after me that would have simply shrugged their shoulders and allowed that order to go forward without dying in the ditch trying to stop it.”
Kelly’s successor, Mick Mulvaney, who served from 2019 to 2020, agreed and said he was “not aware of a general standing order” on declassification.
One anonymous former senior official said it was “nonsense,” and asked, “If that’s true, where is the order with his signature on it? If that were the case, there would have been tremendous pushback from the Intel Community and DoD, which would almost certainly have become known to Intel and Armed Services Committees on the Hill.”
Similar denials came from other former officials, as well as several appeals to the typically rigorous declassification process — albeit no mention of the presidential exemption from that process in Obama’s executive order — and even assertions that certain Cabinet officials would have resigned in protest if any such order had actually been issued.
“I was not briefed on anything like that when I started as national security adviser. I never heard of it, never saw it in operation, never knew anything about it,” former National Security Adviser John Bolton told CNN. He added, “If this existed, there had to be some way to memorialize it. “The White House counsel had to write it down. Otherwise, how would people throughout the government know what to declassify?”