Government classification rarely seems like a hot topic, but the past week has resulted in a flurry of news reports about government classification and what it means. We’ve previously unpacked the topic in a variety of articles on ClearanceJobs, including features like Declassification 101, the costs of classification, and how information is declassified.
Of course, the news reports of this week are less concerned about the wonky world of government classification procedures and more concerned with the controversial world of whether or not former President Donald Trump could face any repercussions for allegedly having classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence. Here are three topics worth keeping in mind as you continue to follow the news on the government’s classification process.
1. As President, Trump Had Full Classification Authority.
Without knowing what was in those classified documents taking from Trump’s residence, predicting what will happen, or what the issue is, or why the FBI searched the home in the first space becomes incredibly speculative. What we can say is that as president, Trump would have had the authority to declassify the documents. He has thus far stated the documents were declassified, so the question becomes one of timing – it will likely to be difficult to prove the documents weren’t actually declassified when they left the White House, unless there is something contained within those documents that makes it abundantly clear they never should have seen the light of day.
2. If those classified documents end up getting published, you still can’t go around talking about them.
This is always the weird catch-22 clearance holders find themselves in. Just because information is released or publicly available doesn’t mean you can read it, share it, or talk about it. Whether it’s the Washington Post or the Intercept, security clearance holders do frequently find themselves in that weird position where their friends are talking about information that they ‘can neither confirm nor deny’ – and that they can’t actually talk about at all.
3. How Should the documents have been declassified?
We have a lot more about the declassification process at ClearanceJobs but as many individuals have already speculated, there is certainly fear that the current issues around declassification could require more training or required conversations around the government classification process. While the reality is that a current President Trump could have said the word and declassified any documents in his possession (with rare and minimal exceptions), it’s also a reality that those documents should have had specific actions taken – for paper documents, likely a classification marking being crossed off and a date of declassification being stamped on.
There will be many questions around the process – were the documents classified because of what they were or where they were (a common issue for presidential documents, which may be pulled from open source locations but then become classified just by the nature of how they’re briefed). For now, the nuanced world of government classification is getting a few extra sets of eyes – which always prompts pros and cons.