Former official told investigators Trump had ‘no standing declassification order’ regarding documents, filing says

Written by on April 26, 2024

In this Nov. 15, 2022, file photo, former President Donald Trump leaves the stage after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home, in Palm Beach, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) — Prosecutors in former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case said in court filings that a former Trump administration official told investigators that Trump, as president, had “no standing declassification order” regarding documents in his possession.

The filings, which are part of special counsel Jack Smith’s response to a Trump legal team motion to compel discovery in the case, include notes from prosecutors’ interview with a former administration official who the special counsel says “refused recording of the interview.” The interview subject stated that having the interview recorded was a “far bigger risk for him in the Trump world,” according to FBI notes on the interview, which were included in the filing.

The FBI notes, known as a 302, are heavily redacted, obscuring the name of the former official, who is only identified as Per[son] 16, with several pages blacked out in their entirety.

The former official, who had “free access to [Trump] and the Oval Office, and was in the Oval Office daily,” told prosecutors there was “no standing declassification order,” and that they had “never heard of that while in the White House.”

After the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in 2022 and retrieved more than 100 additional documents with classified markings, Trump’s team issued a statement to one media outlet claiming that, while still in office, Trump had issued “a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them.”

Trump was subsequently indicted last June on 37 criminal counts related to his handling of classified materials after leaving the White House, after prosecutors said he repeatedly refused to return hundreds of documents containing classified information ranging from U.S. nuclear secrets to the nation’s defense capabilities, and took steps to thwart the government’s efforts to get the documents back. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

While the new court filings do not change the narrative established in the special counsel’s indictments, they offer a glimpse into the kinds of evidence Smith is prepared to bring to trial, including detailed testimony from Trump White House insiders.

In late October or early November of 2021, nearly a year before a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago was issued, the former official appealed to Trump to return government records, according to the filings.

“Whatever you have, give it all back,” the filings quote the former official saying they told Trump.

The former official described an effort get multiple people close to Trump, including his children, to tell him, “There are issues with the boxes. They belong to the government, talk to your dad about giving them back. It’s not worth the aggravation.”

By late November of 2021, the warnings grew more stark, the former official told investigators. The former official describes telling Trump, who was dressed in golf attire, “Whatever you have, give everything back. Don’t give them a reason to indict you, because they will.”

Trump responded with a “weird ‘you’re the man’ type of response,” the former official told investigators.

A separate exhibit filed with the government’s response details an FBI interview about the National Archives and Records Administration’s efforts to locate missing government records, including letters from President Barack Obama and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

That interview, with another former Trump administration official whose name is redacted but is identified as “Per[son] 40,” describes how Trump was “fond of certain documents,” including the North Korean letters.

That official took detailed notes about records management during the Trump administration, and those notes describe another Trump White House official, only identified as Per[son] 14, stating that the former president did not “trust the system.”

During a conversation in which Person 40 brought up that boxes of documents Trump kept in his residence need to go NARA, Person 14 responded, “NARA and what army?”

Person 40’s notes, according to the new filings, describe Trump’s “habits” of handling documents in the White House, “which included destroying, tearing them up and/or throwing them away,” and indicated that those habits did not change when they became known publicly after being published in a Politico story.

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