White House documents that former President Donald Trump brought with him to Mar-a-Lago had been declassified, Trump allies said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday that he had "personally approved" the search of Trump's Florida home, which was raided by FBI agents on Monday. Multiple reports said the raid was related to the handling of presidential records, including classified documents, after leaving office.
The Justice Department has prosecuted cases involving the mishandling of classified information, but no such case has been brought against a former president — the one government official who can declassify information at will.
Ric Grenell, who was Trump's acting director of national intelligence, told NBC News that documents can be declassified if the president simply says they are.
"There is no approval process for the president of the United States to declassify intelligence," Grenell told NBC News. "There is this phony idea that he must provide notification for declassification, but that's just silly. Who is he supposed to notify? I think it's the height of swampism to think the president should seek bureaucrats' approval."
Kash Patel, a Pentagon chief of staff during the Trump administration, in May said that documents previously recovered from Mar-a-Lago had been declassified by Trump, but their markings were not updated.
"Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves," Patel told Breitbart News.
"The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn't mean the information wasn't declassified. I was there with President Trump when he said, 'We are declassifying this information.'"
At the time, Patel did not specify what the earlier documents were, but added, "it's information that Trump felt spoke to matters regarding everything from Russiagate to the Ukraine impeachment fiasco to major national security matters of great public importance — anything the president felt the American people had a right to know is in there and more. We are declassifying this information."
The 1978 Presidential Records Act requires presidents to turn over documents to the National Archives at the end of their administration. Although the law does not specify enforcement, there are multiple federal laws regarding the handling of classified documents.
"As the facts stand now, his [Trump's] defense would be, 'I declassified those documents. I am not therefore in possession of classified documents now,'" Charles Stimson, a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation and a former federal prosecutor, told NBC News.
Trump foes, however, reject the notion a president can declassify documents so easily.
"He can't just wave a wand and say it's declassified," Richard Immerman, a historian and former assistant deputy director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama, told NBC News. "There has to be a formal process. That's the only way the system can work.
"I've seen thousands of declassified documents. They're all marked 'declassified' with the date they were declassified."
One source told NBC News that Trump as president wasn't concerned with formal protocol.
"We've told him there's a process and not following it could be a problem but he didn't care because he thinks this stuff is dumb," the source said of declassifying documents. "His attitude is that he is the president. He is in charge of the country and therefore national security. So he decides."
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