Donald Trump said Thursday that Americans will not “stand” for indictments against him regarding top secret documents he took from the White House — and ominously warned that criminal charges could trigger “big problems” never before seen.
Trump also declared that he issued a standing order to declassify everything he took from the White House. It’s a resurrected claim that even his attorneys haven’t presented in court filings — and one contradicted by several Trump administration officials.
Asked about possible indictments related to the several boxes of White House documents, including classified and even top secret files, stashed at Mar-a-Lago, Trump repeatedly told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on his program that Americans won’t “stand for it,” and that any charges would trigger “problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before.”
When Hewitt asked him to detail what kind of problems, Trump responded: “I think they’d have big problems, big problems. I just don’t think they’d stand for it,” he added, referring to the public. “They will not sit still and stand for this ultimate of hoaxes.”
When Hewitt pointed out that the comments could be interpreted as an incitement to violence, Trump replied: “That’s not inciting. I’m just saying what my opinion is. I don’t think the people of this country would stand for it.”
In any case, even if he is indicted, Trump emphasized it would not stop him from running for the presidency in 2024. “If a thing like that happened, I would have no prohibition against running,” Trump told Hewitt, though he did not say he will run.
Hewitt also noted that Trump ally and former Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel said he witnessed Trump “giving verbal orders to declassify the papers that ended up at Mar-a-Lago.”
“Do you remember making those orders?” Hewitt asked Trump.
“That’s correct,” the former president responded. “Not only that, I think it was other people also were there.” Trump also insisted he has “the absolute right to declassify, absolute.”
Though Patel has backed Trump’s claim of issuing a “standing order” to declassify documents the former president took from the White House, it has not been asserted in court documents by Trump’s lawyers. Patel appears to be the only one other than Trump who has insisted such an order existed.
Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and his former White House chief of staff John Kelly also 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 month that 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, he noted.
Trump’s attorneys have argued that presidents have the power to declassify documents, and that some files confiscated by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago may no longer be classified. But they haven’t argued that Trump ordered the documents declassified. The former president “seeks to raise questions about the classification status of the records” but hasn’t asserted to the court — nor provided “any evidence” — that they were declassified, Justice Department attorneys argued in a court filing this week.
Presidents have the power to declassify information but must follow a process. Two years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit flatly stated that “declassification, even by the President, must follow established procedures.”
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.”
Declassified documents are treated very differently. For one thing, as Bolton pointed out, they’re subject to the Freedom of Information Act and can be accessed by the public. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti called Trump’s declaration Thursday that he declassified documents a “big error” that could trigger legal trouble for him.
“Staking out the position that he ’declassified’ everything he brought to Mar-a-Lago may sound like it helps him, but actually it locks him into a story and makes it harder to pivot later if he is charged,” he tweeted Thursday.