October 17, 2022

ABA Legal Fact Check explores legal basis for a president to declassify documents

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2022 — More than two months after FBI agents raided former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence, known as Mar-a-Lago, the scope of the documents taken by investigators is still not publicly known, nor have any charges been filed.

As a new ABA Legal Fact Check posted today explains, the U.S. Department of Justice investigation continues amid conflicting interpretations of constitutional, federal and case law regarding the handling of classified information as well as the obligations of a chief executive to separate presidential and personal materials.

The fact check looks at the legal landscape for handling classified information and other government secrets, including those under the Atomic Energy Act. The new posting notes that a president clearly has broad legal authority, in most cases, to classify and declassify documents. And it also points out that while prevailing law requires federal officials to follow certain procedures in declassifying documents to establish specificity and memorialization for future handling, whether a president must abide by those formal requirements has yet to be tested in court.

ABA Legal Fact Check seeks to help the media and public through case and statutory law to find dependable answers and explanations to sometimes confusing legal questions and issues. The web portal for ABA Legal Fact Check — www.abalegalfactcheck.com — includes a search button for its content, which is grouped by legal topics in multiple different categories, including COVID-19 legal issues, presidential authority, election law, and police and security.

Most recently, ABA Legal Fact Check explored the law and legal guidelines related to precedent and the U.S. Supreme Court. Other recent postings include whether Russian oligarchs have the legal right to due process in the face of U.S. sanctions and an explanation of the law of genocide.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.