When Donald Trump Said He Can Do 'Whatever' He Wants With Classified Documents
Former President Donald Trump brazenly declared, using the Presidential Records Act (PRA) as cover, that he could do "whatever" he wanted with classified documents during an interview with conservative podcast host Hugh Hewitt in September. Legal experts, on the other hand, have sharply disagreed, as reported by Salon.
The Hugh Hewitt Show host questioned Trump on September 6, 2023, saying, "Did you direct anyone to move the boxes, Mr. President? Did you tell anyone to move the boxes?" referring to the boxes containing more than 300 classified documents that were taken from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate by the federal government last year, per Rolling Stone.
"I don't talk about anything," Trump said. "You know why? Because I'm allowed to do whatever I want. I come under the Presidential Records Act… I'm not telling you. You know, every time I talk to you, 'Oh, I have a breaking story.' You don't have any story. I come under the Presidential Records Act. I'm allowed to do everything I did." Legal professionals quickly refuted Trump's interpretation of the Presidential Records Act, highlighting the fact that it does not give former presidents complete discretion over how they handle classified material.
Hugh Hewitt: “Did you tell anyone to move the boxes?”— Republican Accountability (@AccountableGOP) September 6, 2023
Donald Trump: “I don’t talk about anything. You know why? Because I’m allowed to do whatever I want. I come under the Presidential Records Act. I’m not telling you...At trial, I’ll testify.” pic.twitter.com/o5NYvKAoHy
Former senior counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security Javed Ali told Salon that Trump's assertion that the PRA protects his holding of classified documents is a "mischaracterization of that authority." Ali claims that if Trump or his group had formally requested that the documents be declassified after he left office, that would have been an appropriate application of the current procedure. A part of the reason why Special Counsel Jack Smith's team is prosecuting Trump criminally is because of his disregard for this procedure.
At his Florida estate, Trump kept more than 300 classified documents, some of which were classified as "top secret," according to Smith's investigation into the Mar-a-Lago documents case. These documents contained information about the country's defense capabilities as well as sensitive intelligence on nuclear weapons programs. Trump fiercely denies any wrongdoing despite the gravity of these accusations, placing the blame instead on the Biden administration and charging them with "weaponizing" the FBI and Department of Justice against him.
Legal experts have refuted not only Trump's incorrect interpretation of the Presidential Records Act but also his assertion that the law necessitates "extended talks with the National Archives and Records Administration," which was reported by CNN. Renowned Harvard Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe maintained that Congress passed the PRA to avoid circumstances similar to Richard Nixon's attempt to seize control of his White House records. The tribe claims that the PRA clearly states that a president's control over secret documents ends at the end of their term. This refutes Trump's claim that he is legally permitted to withhold classified information.
Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, agreed and pointed out that presidents are "specifically" covered by the Presidential Records Act, which mandates that they turn over their records to the archives when they leave office. As Rahmani noted, "Trump's belief that he 'can do whatever he wants' is dangerous and how autocrats rule." The situation was made more difficult by his attempts to obstruct investigators' work and his disdain for the subpoena to return these documents.
Most importantly, legal professionals caution that Trump may now be held legally liable for his remarks to Hugh Hewitt. Rahmani says that Trump's belief that the law does not apply to him can be proven by these statements.
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