New evidence in special counsel probe may undercut Trump’s claim documents he took were automatically declassified

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The National Archives is set to hand over 16 records to special counsel Jack Smith, which show that President Donald Trump and his top advisers had knowledge of the correct declassification process while he was in office.

These records may provide critical evidence in the criminal investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents and may undercut Trump’s claim that he did not have to follow a specific process to declassify documents. Trump has previously attempted to block the special counsel from accessing these records, but the Archives has rejected his claim of a “constitutionally based privilege.”

The records will be handed over on May 24, 2023, “unless prohibited by an intervening court order.”

This comes amid a flurry of activity by Smith’s team, including grand jury appearances by former national security officials who have testified that they told Trump there was a process for a president to declassify material. Trump has faced criticism for his handling of classified documents and his claims about his “standing order” to declassify material.

The Presidential Records Act provides that as soon as a president leaves office, the National Archives becomes the legal custodian of the president’s records, which belong to the public. Trump has misrepresented the Presidential Records Act, claiming that he had the right to take documents when he left office.