Donald Trump and his allies continue to claim that many of the classified documents seized by the FBI had actually been declassified by presidential tweets in 2020 — but that claim was long ago debunked in a sworn statement from Trump’s own chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Former Trump administration official Kash Patel was the latest to argue that October 2020 tweets from Trump declassified troves of documents, presumably including ones recovered from the ex-president’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida earlier this month.
“In October of 2020, President Trump put out for the world to see, a sweeping declassification order, and he did it via social media — every single Russia-gate doc, every single Hillary-gate doc, every one,” Patel told Fox News host Mark Levin on Sunday. (See the video below.)
Trump did indeed tweet on Oct. 6, 2020: “I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”
But later that month, Meadows conceded in a sworn declaration to a federal court that Trump’s tweet was not an order to declassify or release those records.
“The president indicated to me that his statements on Twitter were no self-executing declassification orders, and do not required the declassification or release of any particular documents,” Meadows wrote in his sworn statement.
He added that the tweets “related to authority” the president had delegated to Attorney General William Barr concerning records.
Meadows provided the statement after a judge demanded clarification on why the Trump tweets appeared to be in direct opposition to the White House’s position not to declassify the Russia records. Meadows and the White House had indicated earlier that month that no more records needed to or would be released.
Earlier this month, FBI agents collected more than 20 boxes of material from Mar-a-Lago, all of which it says were supposed to have been turned over to the National Archives, whether classified or not, according to the Presidential Records Act. More than 300 of those documents were marked as classified, The New York Times reported Monday.
In his Fox News appearance Sunday, Patel, who served as chief of staff to the acting defense secretary in the final months of Trump’s presidency, also said he had witnessed Trump declassify “whole sets of documents” in December 2020 and January 2021 while Trump was “on his way out.” However, he previously said the administration “failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings.”
Declassification cannot be done in secret. Former Obama administration Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called such a concept “laughable” since “part and parcel of any act of declassification is communicating that act to all others who possess the same information.”
Professors Kenneth R. Mayer and Andrew Rudalevige wrote in The Washington Post last week that a president “can’t declassify documents with Green Lantern superpowers.”
As for other declassifications, Trump has described a supposed “standing order” that everything taken to his home was automatically declassified. It doesn’t appear Trump ever initiated a process for such an order — nor has he offered any paperwork to prove he issued the order.
Trump’s onetime national security adviser John Bolton and his former White House chief of staff John Kelly said they never heard of any “standing order” concerning declassification, though they should have known if it existed.
“Nothing approaching an order that foolish was ever given,” Kelly told CNN.
Bolton told The New York Times last week that he believes Trump’s claim about declassifying documents is “almost certainly a lie.”
“If he [Trump] were to say something like that, you would have to memorialize that, so that people would know it existed,” and it would then be subject to public record requests, Bolton noted.
Because he was in possession of the documents after leaving the White House, Trump is now under investigation for a possible violation of the Espionage Act, as well as for possible obstruction and removing and destroying official documents.