(NewsNation) — Contrary to remarks Donald Trump made in a TV appearance Wednesday, his former adviser, John Bolton, told NewsNation that the president can’t just “think” about declassifying government documents.
“The president has plenary authority, there’s no doubt about it, but he has to make the decision manifest,” Bolton said on NewsNation Live. “You can’t just think about it or simply say it.”
During his first TV appearance since the FBI searched his Florida residence Mar-a-Lago, Trump said any documents taken were declassified while he was in office, and that a president can do so “even by thinking about it,” the Washington Post reported. The former president even told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that, “There doesn’t have to be a process” for declassification.
That’s not true, Bolton said.
When the president does declassify a document, he explained, he does so for every copy of it, whether it’s in printed or electronic form.
“It’s not simply the physical document that’s being declassified,” Bolton said. “It’s the information in the document.”
That’s why this is so significant, Bolton added. If Trump had made the decision to declassify the documents, that means foreign governments could attempt to gain access to them through the Freedom of Information Act.
“If all these documents really have been declassified, I’m surprised the governments of Russia and China and others haven’t made FOIA requests for copies of all these declassified documents, why they’re not with their shopping bags outside the archives waiting to get copies of it,” Bolton said. “This shows the irresponsibility of what (former) President Trump is saying.”
Had he actually declassified the documents, Bolton said, the impact would be “extraordinary.”
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted the Justice Department’s request to block an independent arbiter from reviewing the classified documents taken from Mar-a-Lago. The special master will still be allowed to review the other approximately 11,000 documents to see which are protected by attorney-client or executive privilege.
While Bolton had criticism for Trump, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said a speech President Joe Biden gave to the United Nations General Assembly about the Russia-Ukraine War used “strong” rhetoric.
Addressing world leaders Wednesday, Biden said Russia has violated the United Nations charter with its “brutal, needless war” in Ukraine and delivered a forceful condemnation of the country’s invasion.
However, Bolton said Biden made a mistake in not making it clear in his speech exactly what the U.S. would do if Russian President Vladimir Putin used nuclear weapons to protect Russian territory, as he is threatening to.
“If Putin used a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, he’d be signing a suicide note,” Bolton said. “This has to be the message to Russia. You can have all the rhetoric and talk about how unacceptable the use of nuclear weapons is. But we have, as I mentioned before, failed to deter this invasion to begin with. I wouldn’t count on our rhetoric being terribly persuasive in deterring future Kremlin actions.”