Right-wing media claim Trump can declassify documents with a “magic wand”

Meanwhile, his former chief of staff says, “You can't just sort of stand over a box of documents, wave your hand, and say, ‘These are all declassified.' That’s not how the system works.”


As reports continue to emerge that Donald Trump retreated to Mar-a-Lago with hundreds of highly sensitive documents, right-wing media have dutifully defended the former president’s actions by claiming that his broad authority to classify and declassify documents as president absolves him of any potential wrongdoing.

Since the August 8 Mar-a-Lago search, Trump and his allies have claimed that he had issued a “standing order” to declassify documents “at the moment he removed them” from the Oval Office. 

Unsurprisingly, right-wing media have leapt to his defense, echoing the former president’s claims that he had already declassified broad swaths of presidential papers and that he could essentially “wave a magic wand” and declassify documents, without need for a paper trail. 

Numerous legal experts (and former Trump White House officials) have disputed Trump’s claim of having a “standing order” to declassify confidential documents taken to Mar-a-Lago

  • According to a report from FactCheck.org, “numerous experts on national security and the law surrounding classified documents” said that Trump’s claims of having a standing order to declassify documents “isn’t plausible.” Former Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence Richard Immernman said, “I have been engaged in declassification issues since the 1970s, and I can attest that there is no precedent for such a standing order.” 
  • In a report by The New York Times, several national security and legal experts disputed Trump’s standing order defense, describing it as “preposterous” and “borderline incoherent.” What’s more, the Times report noted that the standing order defense “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.” 
  • And while Trump and his allies have claimed that the former president issued a “standing order” to declassify sensitive documents during his presidency, former White House staffers, including two of his former chiefs of staff, John Kelly and Mick Mulvaney, have disputed that claim. CNN quoted one anonymous former staffer characterizing the “standing order” claim as "total nonsense." (In fact, Mulvaney recently told conservative news outlet Newsmax, “You can't just sort of stand over a box of documents, wave your hand, and say, 'These are all declassified.' That’s not how the system works.”)

Right-wing media claim Trump was “the classification authority”

  • Conservative lawyer Mike Davis claimed that presidents can essentially “wave a magic wand” and declassify sensitive documents. Davis also appeared on Fox News several times, where he described the Mar-a-Lago search as an “unlawful” and a “fishing expedition,” and argued that the Supreme Court held that presidents have the constitutional authority to classify or declassify any government record and don’t “have to record it.” [War Room: Pandemic, 8/12/22; Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 8/15/22; Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 8/12/22]
  • Conservative journalist John Solomon — a regular guest on Hannity in recent weeks — has claimed that Trump issued a “standing order” to declassify documents “the moment he removed them” from the Oval Office. Solomon — who along with former Trump staffer Kash Patel has been named a representative of the former president to the National Archive — has also claimed that federal courts have held that presidents can “declassify or destroy records at will,” and that Trump is no different. [Fox News, Hannity, 8/12/22; Twitter, 8/13/22; Just the News, 8/17/22; Media Matters, 8/19/22]
  • Patel said that he and Solomon both have “been on a mission” as “the president’s representatives to the National Archives” to prove Trump had declassified the documents seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago. In an appearance on Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Patel said that if the president “says something is declassified, that's it. Then it's declassified,” and blamed the General Services Administration for potentially sending the wrong documents to Mar-a-Lago. Patel also claimed that Trump had declassified all of the documents pertaining to the FBI's Russia probe. (Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows disputed that claim at the time.) [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/12/22; Newsmax, Greg Kelly Reports, 8/16/22; Media Matters, 8/18/22]
  • On his radio program, Fox News host Mark Levin claimed that “nothing can stop him” if a president wants to abscond with classified information. “If you have the power to make classifications and unmake classification, then you have the power to take a document whether it's classified or not, as president of the United States,” Levin said. In an appearance on Hannity, Levin argued that the ability to “classify and declassify at will” is a hallmark of executive power. [Mark Levin Show, 8/15/22; Fox News, Hannity, 8/18/22]
  • On his radio show, Fox host and “shadowchief of staff to the former president Sean Hannity echoed Trump’s statement about the documents at Mar-a-Lago, saying that “all of it was declassified.” Hannity also echoed Trump’s response to reports that some documents at Mar-a-Lago pertained to nuclear secrets, saying the claim was part of a long line of hoaxes perpetrated against the former president. [The Sean Hannity Show, 8/12/22]
  • Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller said that “Donald J. Trump is the classification authority.” Miller argued that Trump — not the National Archives, FBI, or anyone else — is the ultimate authority on which documents from his presidency are classified. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 8/12/22]
  • The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro claimed that busting Trump for a “couple of classified documents in his possession that he had the power to declassify” was a ploy to “invalidate” Trump’s potential 2024 presidential candidacy. “If the way that you got Donald Trump is he had a couple of classified documents in his possession that he had the power to declassify but he didn’t declassify them in the way that you see fit, and this is how you attempt to invalidate him for 2024, good luck with that,” Shapiro said. [The Daily Wire, 8/17/22]
  • Trump attorney Christina Bobb said that he couldn’t be guilty of a crime because he’s not subject to the same declassification procedure that other government employees must follow. “The president has complete discretion to classify or declassify. He’s also not subject to the same declassification procedures as other government employees. So there’s nothing there. There’s no crime here,” Bobb said. [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 8/19/22]
  • Charles Stimson, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, recently said, “There’s a rich debate about whether or not a document is declassified if a president has decided but not communicated it outside of his own head.” [NBC News, 8/11/22]

Right-wing media have claimed that the documents at Mar-a-Lago are declassified

  • On Fox & Friends, conservative law professor and Fox pundit Jonathan Turley questioned whether Trump had time at the end of his presidency to “go through this process where you have to communicate with the intelligence community to declassify material.” Turley also speculated that Trump and his team may have curated a list of materials he intended to declassify and that this “does not seem like a good basis for a criminal charge.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/12/22]
  • Fox co-host Steve Doocy said it was “unclear” whether Trump had declassified the documents at Mar-a-Lago and the president and his staff had “simply not updated with the markings.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/9/22]
  • Fox host Maria Baritromo suggested that the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago were related to “the Russia collusion lie” and that Trump had declassified them. Bartiromo criticized the “raid” and said “sources” had told her that some of the documents caught up in the raid were associated with Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and were a “killer for the FBI and DOJ” that would “expose incredible bias.” She said Trump had previously declassified those documents, but the government had not released them. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 8/14/22]
  • Fox host Will Cain suggested that Trump had kept documents that would “exonerate him of any claim of Russian collusion.” Cain also speculated that it would be in Trump’s best interest to hang on to materials that would exonerate him “from the last hoax pulled by Democrats.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 8/17/22]
  • Filling in for Laura Ingraham, Fox News contributor Sean Duffy parroted Trump’s claims that the documents at Mar-a-Lago had already been declassified. “There were boxes that were designated as top secret boxes that Trump has since said were declassified.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 8/12/22]
  • Fox contributor Brooke Goldstein suggested that all of the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago “could have been unilaterally declassified by Trump himself.” Goldstein described the search as the FBI “raiding” Trump’s home and called it “unprecedented” and “completely unnecessary.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 8/11/22]
  • In response to the Washington Post report that Trump may have taken nuclear info with him to Mar-a-Lago, Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy said he thought the word “classified” was being overused, cast doubt on the documents’ classified status, and suggested that Trump may have accidentally declassified sensitive materials. “It just seems to me that the word ‘classified’ is being thrown around very cavalierly. You are dealing with the one official in government who, when he was president, had the power to declassify anything. … There is no indication about whether Trump actually declassified the stuff that he has been holding down there." [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 8/12/22
  • Fox analyst Charles Payne argued that Trump had made “sweeping classification moves” as president and questioned, “Under what circumstance would he take these documents and not declassify them if he was going to keep them?” [Fox News, Your World, 8/12/22]
  • Disgraced Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani implied that the former president had declassified documents by virtue of taking them to Mar-a-Lago and then turned around and blamed Obama for taking “30 million documents with him.” [Common Sense, 8/17/22]