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Trump didn’t formally declassify Mar-a-Lago documents because he ‘wanted these secrets to still have value,’ legal analyst suggests

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  • A legal analyst has weighed in on Trump’s claim about having declassified the Mar-a-Lago documents.
  • She posited that Trump didn’t formally declassify them so as to retain their value as secret files.
  • Trump’s claim amounts to an “incredibly damning admission,” wrote former FBI agent Asha Rangappa.

For weeks, former President Donald Trump has defended himself by saying that he had broadly declassified the documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago home.

That claim amounts to an “incredibly damning admission,” wrote Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent who is now a legal analyst and editor at Just Security, in a tweet on Wednesday.

By not adhering to the official declassification process — and there is no evidence that Trump had done so — the former president showed that he wanted to keep the secrets in these documents valuable, suggested Rangappa, who is an assistant dean and a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs.

“Why would you do that? Only if you wanted the secrets to have value to someone,” she wrote.

Rangappa added that Trump would have needed to inform the respective government agencies if he had wanted to declassify any documents formally. This would have led to them taking steps to protect their “methods and sources.” She added that the protection or removal of such information from the documents would, in turn, have devalued them.

“If you really think something should be public, then you want to take steps to protect the sources of the intel before your release it,” Rangappa wrote. “But Trump claims he did it secretly. That means he intentionally wanted to leave these sources and methods exposed.”

She also appeared skeptical of Trump’s claim that he had broadly declassified the documents, stating that such an act would have raised questions.

“You only secretly ‘declassify’ if you want secrets to remain valuable while giving yourself ‘cover’ if you get discovered,” Rangappa wrote.

Several public figures have speculated that Trump might have sought to use the classified documents he kept for his private purposes. 

One of Trump’s most vocal critics, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, has repeatedly said that the former president may have held onto the files because he wanted to use them as a “bargaining chip” should he ever face jail time.

On Monday, Cohen suggested that Trump had been in the habit of giving away sensitive documents while traveling overseas, in light of a Washington Post article that reported on how Trump would take unorganized boxes of classified documents with him on overseas trips.

Following the Mar-a-Lago raid, Fox News host Eric Shawn also asked aloud during a live broadcast if Trump had attempted to sell the documents to Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Since the FBI retrieved 11 sets of classified documents in Trump’s possession on August 8, the former president has claimed that he had declassified the records through a standing order when he was still president.

He claimed the standing order allowed him to remove anything from the White House, automatically declassifying that information. However, 18 former Trump administration aides told CNN they had never heard of such an order.

Although US presidents have the authority to declassify information, the typical process involves notifying the relevant government agencies and having them execute the president’s orders.

With no record or evidence indicating such a process had been undertaken for the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, the primary question Trump now faces is whether he had declassified them before leaving the White House — when he still had the power to do so as president.

Meanwhile, in the Department of Justice’s court filing on Tuesday evening, a new allegation emerged — that Trump and his associates may have tried to obstruct the investigation into the former president’s handling of national secrets.

Notably, in the Trump team’s court filing the following day, no mention was made about the former president declassifying any of the Mar-a-Lago documents, nor was his claim about the FBI planting evidence in his home raised.

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