Trump Ex-Chief of Staff Explains Process Around Declassifying Documents

Former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney explained the process for declassifying documents in an interview on Friday and appeared to cast doubt on claims by former President Donald Trump's team.

Mulvaney, who was Trump's acting chief of staff from January 2019 to March 2020, spoke to Newsmax about the recent FBI raid of the former president's Mar-a-Lago residence.

"I was surprised by some of the reporting on some of the comments by some of the president's inner circle," Mulvaney told the network's National Report.

"Yes, any president of the United States has broad authority to declassify documents," Mulvaney said. "That being said, there's a formal structure to doing that. You can't just sort of stand over a box of documents, wave your hand and say these are all declassified. That's not how the system works."

Mulvaney referred to documents relating to conversations with the president of Ukraine that had been declassified during Trump's first impeachment.

"You don't just sort of get to say off the top of your head, 'oh, everything that I see today' and that seems to be the argument that some of the president's insider team is making right now," he said.

A central question in the Mar-a-Lago raid is if classified documents were transported to and held at the former president's residence in potential violation of federal statutes including the Espionage Act. Trump's team has argued the documents were declassified and that could form part of his defense if any charges are brought against him. Nobody has yet been charged as a result of the FBI investigation.

Mulvaney said that a standing order to declassify documents taken to Mar-a-Lago did not exist when he was chief of staff but acknowledged that one could have been introduced later.

He said that if Trump makes the argument that documents held at Mar-a-Lago were declassified "there would be a paper trail" that it would be incumbent upon the former president to bring out.

Trump's team told Fox News in a statement last Friday: "President Trump, in order to prepare for work the next day, often took documents, including classified documents, to the residence. He had 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."

Newsweek has asked Trump's office for comment.

Mulvaney is not the first person to question the standing order. His immediate predecessor as chief of staff, John Kelly, told CNN on Thursday: "Nothing approaching an order that foolish was ever given."

"And I can't imagine anyone that worked at the White House after me that would have simply shrugged their shoulders and allowed that order to go forward without dying in the ditch trying to stop it," Kelly said.

Mulvaney also appeared on CNN on Friday and said he had witnessed Trump ripping up documents. Similar claims about the destruction of White House documents have been made in the past, including accusations that some documents were flushed down a White House toilet.

He told CNN's Erin Burnett that there was a system in place to preserve documents but acknowledged that he had seen "the president rip documents in half. Not confidential documents, but just draft documents. Not supposed to do that but there's a way to fix it, which is you just find the pieces and you tape them together."

Donald Trump Speaks in Washington, D.C.
TOPSHOT - Former US President Donald Trump speaks at the America First Policy Institute Agenda Summit in Washington, DC, on July 26, 2022. Trump's former White House chief of staff has called into question Trump's declassifying of documents. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images