In the first part of a two-part interview with Fox News’ Brett Baier, former President Donald J. Trump defended his retention of classified documents from his presidency, the subject of one of many legal battles that he faces as he campaigns for 2024.
“Everything was declassified because I have the right to declassify,” Trump told Baier in the interview broadcast June 19.
The interview is Trump’s first since his arraignment in Miami on June 13 over his alleged mishandling of classified documents. The indictment from special counsel Jack Smith can be read here.
The former commander-in-chief has pleaded not guilty to 37 felony charges.
Of those charges, 31 are under the Espionage Act–one for each separate document Trump is accused of improperly retaining in boxes that he removed from the White House as part of the presidential transition process.
Trump told Baier he believes he has “every right to those boxes.”
“This is purely a Presidential Records Act [thing]. This is not a criminal thing,” he said to the cable news host, outlining an argument he’s consistently made in defense of his actions.
In addition, and as in previous defenses of his actions, Trump cited the outcome of a lawsuit from the conservative legal organization Judicial Watch against the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA.
The suit concerned tapes Bill Clinton recorded while president with historian Taylor Branch. Clinton subsequently stored the recordings in his sock drawer. Judicial Watch argued that the tapes should have been turned over to NARA at the end of his final term in office.
The former president has taken to calling it the “Clinton socks case.”
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee to the D.C. district court, dismissed the lawsuit.
“NARA does not have the authority to designate materials as ‘Presidential records,’ NARA does not have the tapes in question, and NARA lacks any right, duty, or means to seize control of them,” Berman wrote in her 2012 opinion.
“It basically said that a president has every right to keep whatever he wants, and that includes me,” Trump told Baier regarding the decision.
Some legal experts have disagreed with that assessment, stressing, among other things, the different character of the materials retained by Clinton and Trump.
“The Clinton materials were audiotapes of conversations with an historian that incidentally recorded some calls on official business. In contrast, the documents that Trump kept were all presidential records from the moment they arrived at the Oval Office from other parts of the government,” Peter Margulies, a professor at Roger Williams University’s School of Law, told The Associated Press.
Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell has said the decision clearly bears on Trump’s case.
“[It’s] okay for Bill Clinton, but when you apply the same standard to Donald Trump, suddenly everybody develops amnesia. Nobody knows what you’re talking about,” he said, according to a June 6 article from One America News.
Trump and Baier talked over each other while discussing the “Clinton socks case” and its relationship to the former president’s alleged violations of federal law.
“The question is whether highly classified government national security documents fall in that category, and that battle is going to be fought in the courts,” Baier said.
“It’s already been fought. There’s a decision strongly that you can keep. But I wouldn’t have kept–but they [the FBI] raided my house,” Trump responded.
The former president also described NARA as a “radical left group.”
NARA’s former acting head, Debra Steidel Wall, characterized the organization as “fiercely non-partisan” in August 2022, after the agency’s rejection of Trump’s executive privilege claim regarding boxes of documents from his presidency ultimately led to the execution of a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Epoch Times investigated the Archives’ politicization earlier this year. The investigation documented strongly left-wing and liberal views among key NARA decision-makers alongside almost uniform financial backing for Democrats and Democrat-aligned causes among its employees.
In his Fox News interview, Trump said the boxes were “interspersed with all sorts of things: golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes. There were many things.”
“Like every other president, I take things out. And in my case, I took it out pretty much in a hurry,” he told Baier.
“I will go through those boxes. I have to go through those boxes,” Trump said, adding that he did not want to give them to NARA before doing so.
He speculated that the Biden administration could be planting evidence in the boxes they seized from Mar-a-Lago.
“I don’t know what they took. They could be stuffing it. I don’t know what they put in there,” he alleged.
“They’ve never treated a president like this,” Trump said.