Former Vice President Mike Pence said he did not take any classified documents with him when he left the White House.
Neither did former President Donald Trump if, as he claims, he declassified all documents sent from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home. Pence told the Associated Press, “I honestly don’t want to prejudge it before until we know all the facts,” when asked about the top secret documents allegedly recovered by FBI agents.
“Number one, it was all declassified,” declared the former president in a post to his Truth account. “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.”
The warrant signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart permitted agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to search the 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms on the 17-acre Mar-a-Lago estate. The warrant also authorized searching the “’45 Office,’ all storage rooms and any other rooms or areas used or available” to Trump and his staff. It excluded areas occupied or rented by third parties such as Mar-a-Lago members or private guest suites.
During the 10-hour search of the former president’s Florida home, agents seized 11 boxes of allegedly classified material, along with other items. The FBI later returned Trump’s passports, which had been scooped up by agents during their search.
The Justice Department expressed concern about the possibility of documents containing nuclear secrets being held by the former president ending up in the wrong hands. They listed boxes containing top secret and TS/SCI classified documents as proof they were pursuing justice and not persecuting the likely 2024 GOP presidential candidate.
The 45th president’s claim that he declassified all the documents before he left office January 20, 2021, should hold up in court.
A 2012 lawsuit filed by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch asked a court to order the national archives to wrest control of 79 audio tapes from former President Bill Clinton. The tapes contained actual events including presidential phone calls and should be preserved under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). Clinton had stored the audio tapes in his sock drawer and used them to prepare a post-presidential book.
Washington, D.C., District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected the lawsuit against Clinton, concluding no provision in the PRA could force the National Archives to seize records from a former president.
A ruling favorable to former President Bill Clinton about audio tapes stored in his sock drawer should bolster Trump’s legal claim he declassified all documents at Mar-a-Lago.
“Under the statutory scheme established by the PRA, the decision to segregate personal materials from Presidential records is made by the President, during the President’s term and in his sole discretion,” opined Jackson in her 27-page decision.
The Justice Department may have its work cut out explaining how a precedent in a similar case against Clinton would not apply in the present circumstance.
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