The legal and political battle over the search of former President Trump’s Florida residence this week is just getting started, and the questions to be resolved revolve around the classified documents that are said to have been about him. That he had taken with him from the White House till March-A. – Lago.
FBI agents seized 11 sets of documents from Trump’s Palm Beach club on Monday, including documents identified as “various classified/TS/SCI documents,” according to unsealed inventory Friday. The list of items taken also noted that the agents removed four sets of documents marked “top-secret”, three sets of documents marked “secret” and three sets of documents marked “confidential”.
These sets of documents are in classification levels based on the degree of their importance to US national security. According to federal regulations governing classification, “confidential” refers to the lowest rung. Information at this stage, if disclosed incorrectly, could cause “identifiable damage” to national security. “Next level, “secret” information, if disclosed incorrectly, can cause serious harm to national security. The “top secret” designation is reserved for material whose unauthorized disclosure causes “extraordinarily serious damage” to national security Can be made.
The “SCI” designation is an acronym for “Sensitive Compartment Information” and refers to classified information involving sensitive intelligence sources, methods, or analytical procedures, and which can only be discussed within “SCIF”—a” “Sensitive Compartment Information Facility” – a secure room or building with limited security clearance to government officials.
After news of the discovery surfaced, the former president claimed in a post Friday on Truth Social that the material had been “all declassified.” In the coming weeks, that claim will be evaluated by the government and possibly the courts. It’s not clear how much information the public will know about how it appears.
With regard to the president’s power to declassify material, here’s some background on how it works, according to current and former intelligence officials who are familiar with the declassification process.
First, a US president typically has broad declassification capabilities, although there is a process that involves written documentation and several other steps.
It is not that a President can declassify documents with only verbal instructions. Their instructions to declassify a given document will be first remembered in a written memo, usually prepared by a White House attorney, that they sign.
Typically, the agency or agencies with equity in the document will be consulted and given an opportunity to provide their views on the declassification decision. However, as the final declassification authority, the President can decide to override any objections raised by him.
Once a final decision is made, and the agency concerned receives a signed memorandum from the President, the physical document in question will be marked – exceeding the old classification level – and then the document will be stamped, “X Unclassified as on date” Agency is under consideration.
Former Trump administration officials have claimed that Trump previously declassified documents he took with him at Mar-a-Lago, but the classification markings were not updated.
Trump’s former defense official Kash Patel told Breitbart in May of other material, “White House lawyers failed to file the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” was.” Mar-a-Lago. “I was there with President Trump when he said ‘We’re making this information public.'”
Courts may eventually have to decide how broad an incumbent president’s declassification powers can be. But U.S. officials familiar with the classification process so far point out that unless documents are stamped “declassified” by the requisition agency, and submitted to a written memorandum signed by the president, they have historically not been considered unclassified. .
It is also not clear how central can be the legal question of the classification process and the role of the President in it. As the New York Times points out, none of the statutes cited in the warrant depend on whether the records were classified. The search warrant, signed by a Florida magistrate judge, includes “items illegally held in contravention of 18 U.S.C. 793, 2071, or 1519.”
That first code, Section 793, and more commonly known as the Espionage Act, applies to defense information. This applies, for example, to material that is illegally removed “from its proper place of custody” or that is lost, stolen or destroyed.