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Trump Appears to Have Violated the Espionage Act Even if he Declassified Everything
A lot of people are making the claim that Trump has the power to declassify any document of his choice to avoid charges under the Espionage Act.
Even if Trump could make the defense that he declassified all of the documents he had at Mar-a-Lago, which to me seems almost impossible now that he’s on recording seemingly admitting that at least one document was not declassified, here is why it doesn’t matter:
- Declassification does not equate to automatic disclosure. Classification status is just one reason for a government agency to withhold the disclosure of information. Just because something is declassified doesn’t mean it is no longer restricted for other reasons. i.e. US nuclear secrets, US military secrets, Foreign country’s military secrets. The US military can still limit what the public gets access to, as can other government agencies.
- The Espionage Act concerns national defense information, not classified information. Nowhere in the act does it specify that the information must be classified in order for the law to have been violated. In fact, the Espionage Act was created in 1917. The modern classification system wasn’t created until 1951. So the Espionage Act was written before the classification system we have today was created. If the government deems documents to be “national defense information” that could harm the US or aid our enemies, then it is information in which belongs to them, and them only.
The Trump indictment accuses him of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 793e, which reads: "Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;"
There you have it. It seems to be a clear violation of this law.