29.05.2024

Pence backs up Meadows claim that Trump didn’t declassify documents

Former Vice President Mike Pence said on Sunday that he wasn’t aware of any effort by Donald Trump or White House staff to declassify documents in the final months of the Trump presidency, backing up a claim made by Mark Meadows and casting further doubt on Mr Trump’s defence ahead of the ex-president’s criminal trial.

Mr Trump remains criminally charged over four separate matters, one of which being his retention of documents from the White House; many are alleged by the Justice Department to be classified defence materials and other records that the ex-president had without permission of the National Archives. He has denied this, claiming that any classified materials in his possession were formally declassified before he left office and further arguing that he had the right to take whichever documents he wanted to keep.

His former vice president appeared for an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, and was asked by Jonathan Karl about whether he was aware of any directives by the president to declassify such documents before the Trump presidency ended.

“I was never made aware of any broad-based effort to declassify documents,” Mr Pence responded.

He then continued: “I’m aware of that occurring on several occasions over the course of our four years, but I don’t have any knowledge of any broad-based directive from the president.”

Mr Pence’s words do not conclusively prove that a declassification order was never issued, but as of yet no former White House staffers have emerged to actually back up Mr Trump’s claim of having done so. The ex-president’s resort and home at Mar-a-Lago was raided by the FBI for the documents in a stunning move last year as authorities reacquired the contested materials following months of back-and-forth with Mr Trump and his legal team.

Other, smaller collections of presidential records including some classified materials were subsequently found at the home and private office of President Joe Biden, and later Mike Pence, after the FBI raid but notably were discovered and turned over by the Biden and Pence legal teams without argument.

Mr Pence’s comments are significant given that they come in the immediate wake of other reporting from ABC News revealing that Mark Meadows, the final White House chief of staff under Donald Trump, told investigators that he was unaware of any order by his boss to declassify broad sets of documents before they left the White House in January 2021.

Mr Meadows further testified, according to ABC News, that he was unaware of a supposed “standing order” to declassify any materials being taken out of the Oval Office as the Trump team packed up, a claim that the ex-president has also made in recent weeks.

The testimony of Mr Meadows, and those specific assertions, would be a serious challenge to Mr Trump’s defence as no such orders would have occurred without the chief of staff’s knowledge. Mr Trump’s lawyers have yet to formally make that argument outside of their client’s own comments to the media and supporters, however, as they instead focus on claiming that the president was within his right to take such materials, classified or not.

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