Former President Donald J. Trump’s claim that he had declassified all of the documents that the F.B.I. seized in the search of his Florida home last week — including those marked as top secret — has heightened interest in the scope of a president’s power to declassify information.
On Friday, Mr. Trump’s office claimed that when he was president, he had a “standing order” that materials “removed from the Oval Office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them,” according to a statement read on Fox News by a right-wing writer Mr. Trump has designated as one of his representatives to the National Archives.
Apart from whether there is any evidence that such an order actually existed, the notion has been greeted with disdain by national security legal specialists. Glenn S. Gerstell, the top lawyer for the National Security Agency from 2015 to 2020, pronounced the idea that whatever Mr. Trump happened to take upstairs each evening automatically became declassified — without logging what it was and notifying the agencies that used that information — “preposterous.”
The claim is also irrelevant to Mr. Trump’s potential troubles over the document matter, because none of the three criminal laws cited in a search warrant as the basis of the investigation depend on whether documents contain classified information.
Still, the novel claim is striking. Here is a closer look at what a president can and cannot do when it comes to removing protections for government secrets. [Continue reading…]