Former President Donald Trump insisted during an interview on Wednesday that “there doesn’t have to be a process” for a president to declassify documents, and claimed that a commander-in-chief can declassify material “even by thinking about it.”
During the wide-ranging interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, the former president said he was “surprised” by the raid of his Mar-a-Lago estate after previously having had “good discussions” with the bureau about presidential records being stored on the premises. He also lobbed several accusations at the agency, alleging that agents took his will, insinuating that they may have planted evidence, and speculating that the FBI may have been looking for material related to debunked Russia collusion claims and emails belonging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think this is prosecutable … I don’t see how they can prosecute me,” Trump said of the Justice Department’s investigation into presidential records that may have been classified being taken from the White House and stored at Mar-a-Lago.
“You can declassify just by saying ‘it’s declassified,’ even by thinking about it,” the former president told Hannity during the interview, which was done at Mar-a-Lago.
The DOJ has argued to an appeals court that Trump has yet to provide evidence that he had declassified the records seized from his home and resort. The special master appointed to sift through the documents seized by the FBI has also appears highly skeptical of the former president’s claims, telling Trump’s legal team on Tuesday that the former president must provide evidence of declassification or else the judge may have to assume the seized records are in fact classified.
Trump pushed back during his sit-down with Hannity, making claims about the declassification process that his lawyer’s have thus far avoided making in court.
“You’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago, or to wherever, you’re sending it, and there doesn’t have to be a process. There can be a process, but there doesn’t have to be. You’re the president, you make that decision. So, when you send it, it’s declassified. I declassified everything,” Trump insisted.
The former president also recounted the moment he learned the FBI executed a search warrant on his home, telling Hannity that he was in New Jersey and received a call from a Mar-a-Lago employee the morning of Aug. 8 who informed him that “many many people” from the FBI were at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort.
“I couldn’t believe it. They wanted to do it quietly, silently,” Trump said of the FBI raid, adding that by 4 p.m. his team received calls from the media asking about “people standing at the gates with AK-47s.”
Trump said that he has surveillance tapes of the FBI’s search but that he won’t release them out of fear the public may take retribution against the agents involved.
He claimed that the agents searched his bedroom, his closet, his son Barron’s bedroom, and his wife Melania’s closet, and took his will, pictures, newspaper articles, “kitchen things,” clothing, and sports equipment that had been packed up at the White House.
He also claimed “chain of custody” issues with the material taken from Mar-a-Lago,
“The problem that you have is they go into rooms, they won’t let anybody near them, they wouldn’t even let [his lawyers] in the same building. Did they drop anything into those piles, or did they do it later?” Trump said, adding that he doesn’t believe any of these actions would have been caught on the surveillance tapes he claims to have from Aug. 8.
Trump also discussed a reported June visit from the FBI to Mar-a-Lago, which he described as something that he thought was “a very routine thing.”
“We had good discussions, as per the whole records act, and then all of the sudden we were surprised. I was very surprised,” Trump said of the FBI raid a few months later.
The former president said that the “severity” of the DOJ’s and FBI’s actions against him lead him to believe they may have perhaps been looking for something else rather than potentially classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
“There’s also a lot of speculation because of what they did … were they looking for the Hillary Clinton emails that were deleted but are around someplace,” Trump said, adding that the FBI may have also been searching for “Russia, Russia, Russia stuff,” referring to the FBI’s investigation of false Russia collusion claims during his presidency.