Former President Donald Trump claimed on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Thursday that he declassified the government records that were taken to Mar-a-Lago – an assertion that his attorneys have avoided making in the litigation around the FBI’s seizure of the materials.
Hewitt asked Trump about an account given by his former White House aide Kash Patel that Patel witnessed Trump’s giving a verbal order to declassify the documents taken to Mar-a-Lago. (Patel, in an interview with Breitbart, said the materials Trump declassified had to do with the Russia probe, the Ukraine impeachment proceedings and “major national security matters of great public importance.”)
“That’s correct,” Trump said. “And not only that, I think it was other people also were there. But I have the absolute right to declassify, absolute – a president has that absolute right, and a lot of people aren’t even challenging that anymore.”
Trump added later in the interview that “everything was declassified.”
In a court filing earlier this week, the Justice Department drilled down on the absence of any such assertion from Trump’s legal team in court, while also arguing to the court that, even if he did declassify the materials, it would still be irrelevant to the legal dispute over the search.
Trump’s attorneys have sought to cast doubt that the 100-plus documents with classification markings that the FBI seized last month are in fact classified. But his attorneys have not said outright that Trump declassified the materials.
Trump, the Justice Department said in a court filing Tuesday, “principally seeks to raise questions about the classification status of the records and their categorization under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). But Plaintiff does not actually assert – much less provide any evidence – that any of the seized records bearing classification markings have been declassified.”
None of the criminal statutes the Justice Department cited when applying for the warrant it used to search Trump’s home hinged on the documents in question being classified.
Eighteen former officials in Trump’s administration also told CNN last month that they were aware of no such declassification order and that they believed Trump’s claims to be patently false.
Speaking to Hewitt, Trump said he did not believe he would be indicted but said that wouldn’t prohibit him from running again for president regardless. He also hinted at civil unrest if he were indicted – warning of “big problems” – though he did not elaborate.
“I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before,” Trump said. “I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.”
When asked if he had received a target letter in connection with the DOJ’s probe into the fake electors, Trump said he had not, nor had he been asked to appear before the grand jury.
“I wasn’t involved with alternate slates,” Trump said. That claim that has been contradicted by testimony given in the House’s January 6 investigation, where RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel testified that Trump called her as part of the effort to use fake electors to support him.
CNN’s Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.