When FBI agents found top secret documents at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the former president and his staff claimed the docs were actually declassified by a mysterious “standing” declassification rule. Now, the feds are investigating Trump’s alibi to see if anyone besides Trump heard about it.
Two people familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone that the FBI has begun asking former Trump administration officials whether they’ve heard of the so-called “standing order” Trump claims to have given. In recent days, the sources say, the feds have sent interview requests to the ex-officials, including former National Security Council personnel. The FBI has asked some of them to visit local FBI field offices to answer follow-up questions concerning the ex-president, classified and highly sensitive documents, and the alleged “order.” That order, Trump’s office insisted last week, dictated that any “documents removed from the Oval Office and taken into the residence were deemed to be declassified.”
So far, these interviews have been voluntary, but as with any FBI investigation, witnesses are required by federal law to be truthful in their answers or risk potential prosecution for false statements.
The FBI declined to comment.
It’s unclear why a sitting president, who as commander-in-chief was privy to any classified information, would need to declassify work brought to the White House private residence. John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser from 2018 to 2019, told The New York Times he was unaware of any such order and called the assertion “almost certainly a lie.”
Trump and his allies have offered a confusing and at times contradictory set of explanations for why FBI agents found documents marked “top secret” in boxes at the former president’s South Florida residence.
In posts to his social media platform Truth Social, Trump has suggested both that the FBI was involved in “planting” evidence during the execution of the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, and that the documents found were “all declassified” in any case. More recently, Trump has reposted a public Jan. 19, 2021 executive order calling for the declassification of a specific binder of classified documents related to the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Trump and Russian intelligence.
The few Trump administration national security veterans willing to speak publicly or on background thus far have not corroborated Trump’s claims of a “standing order” for declassification. In a story posted Thursday, CNN asked 18 former Trump officials whether they knew of such an order. None mentioned having ever heard of it.