Pressed further, Trump insisted he had declassified the documents in question when he left the White House, again without pointing to proof of such.
“In other words, when I left the White House, they were declassified,” Trump said.
The comments came during a discussion of the ongoing criminal investigation of the highly sensitive documents seized by federal agents from Trump’s home and resort in Florida. And they were offered as the ex-president’s own legal team has resisted efforts to back up the assertion that the documents in question were declassified.
Trump’s lawyers most recently suffered a rebuke on this front from a federal judge who has been tasked with sifting through the seized documents to sort out privileged files or files pertinent to national security matters.
“My view of it is: You can’t have your cake and eat it,” said Judge Raymond Dearie, the so-called special master, in challenging the Trump lawyers’ assertion that it could not produce evidence of a declassification for fear that doing so could harm them in future court settings.
On Wednesday, a separate panel of judges declined to accept the Trump legal team’s efforts to stop a criminal inquiry of the roughly 100 seized documents marked as classified. In its decision, the three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that Trump “has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents. … Nor has he established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents.”
The panel also said the debate on classification was a “red herring,” in that it did not address “why [Trump] has a personal interest in” those documents.
The Hannity interview — Trump’s first sit-down comments since the search — was pre-recorded, seemingly before it became clear on Wednesday evening that the former president’ legal team had encountered the setback before the 11th Circuit.
In the interview, Trump said he did not pack any boxes when he left the White House, instead leaving the task to the General Services Administration, which helps facilitate presidential transitions.
“There was nothing that was hiding,” Trump said of the process.
Despite pressure to do so from conservative circles, Trump said he had not released potential security camera footage of the search on his Florida property because he’d been told it could put FBI agents in danger.
“Most of the people in the FBI, they probably voted for Trump,” the former president said. “I don’t want to have anybody hurt. But they came onto the site.”
The agency has faced anger and scrutiny from the right since the search.