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Classified or declassified: Where does that presidential power come from?

“It really is a pretty extraordinary power"
mar-a-lago trump fbi
Posted at 9:45 PM, Aug 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-13 00:26:52-04

DENVER — The search warrant related to the raid of former President Donald Trump's Florida home revealed the FBI confiscated 11 sets of classified documents. However, Trump's team claims they were declassified documents.

Trump's office released the following statement Friday:

Number one, it was all declassified. Number two, they didn’t need to “seize” anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago. It was in secured storage, with an additional lock put on as per their request. They could have had it anytime they wanted—and that includes LONG ago. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK. The bigger problem is, what are they going to do with the 33 million pages of documents, many of which are classified, that President Obama took to Chicago?
The Office of Donald J. Trump

READ MORE: DOJ cites Espionage Act in removing government records in Trump search warrant

Josh Dunn, political science professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, explained what declassification is and where it originated. He said declassification essentially means a previously confidential document can be accessed by the public.

“The general rule is the president has the authority to declassify material. However, there are some exceptions to that," Dunn said. “First, that authority only lasts while the person is actually president. Second, another president can reverse that decision. And then there's also another category of material that cannot be declassified, and that's anything related to nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and those go back to Atomic Energy Acts from the late 40s and 50s. And so, even if the president wants to declassify that material, the president cannot.”

Classified or declassified: Where does that presidential power come from?

Dunn said declassification dates back to a Supreme Court Case decision from the late 80s.

“There are some people who argue that that case has been misinterpreted, and said that it doesn't actually give the president as much authority as later interpreters have said. But that's generally how courts have treated, though, is that the president has this very substantial authority and can just kind of wave a magic wand and make a document declassified if he chooses to do so," said Dunn.

Dunn said the only time declassification can be reversed is if a new president decides to do so.

“If they're classified, they could relate to material that you would rather not have your enemies have access to. And if they're just stored somewhere at a private residence, they aren't very secure," he said. "It could be very unusual, depending on the documents, right? That's the key question. I mean, I think we just have to wait and see what what the the FBI actually found.”