Former Vice President Mike Pence and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday that they had no knowledge of then-President Donald Trump declassifying a large number of documents, completely undermining the former president’s main defense in the Mar-a-Lago case.
Special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump’s main argument for his innocence is that as president, he could declassify whatever material he wanted. His allies had previously argued that he had a “standing declassification order” that would immediately declassify any document removed from the Oval Office. Trump himself claimed he could declassify things “just by thinking about it.”
But Pence and Meadows, two of Trump’s closest advisers in the White House, say differently. “I was never made aware of any broad-based effort to declassify documents,” Pence told ABC on Sunday.
Pence was quick to add it’s possible a sweeping declassification did happen without his knowledge. But his comments match Meadows’s testimony to Smith. Meadows told Smith’s investigators that he does not remember Trump ever ordering or even discussing declassifying huge swathes of classified documents, ABC reported Sunday, citing anonymous sources. Meadows also said he was unaware of any “standing order” to automatically declassify documents taken out of the Oval Office.
ABC also saw an early draft of the prologue to Meadows’s memoir about serving as Trump’s chief of staff. Meadows mentions a meeting Trump had at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club with Meadows’s ghostwriter and publicist, but not Meadows. The prologue mentions Trump had a classified war plan on the couch in his office, in plain view. Meadows later removed that detail because he knew it would be “problematic,” according to ABC.
This is the same meeting where Trump himself admitted he knew all his talk about automatic declassification was bunk. In an audio recording of the July 2021 meeting, Trump admits he had classified material and could not declassify it because he no longer holds office.
In the recording, Trump claims he has a “big pile of papers” that undermine previous reports that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had convinced Trump not to attack Iran near the end of his presidency. Trump refers to one document as if he has it in front of him, and at one point there is the sound of paper rustling as if he was showing off the document.
According to the recording transcript, Trump says, “This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is, like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information.”
“As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” he admits.
In addition to Pence and Meadows, 18 other former administration officials have said they knew of no standing declassification order. These officials include former Chiefs of Staff John Kelly and Mick Mulvaney. Notably, Trump’s lawyers do not mention a standing order in court documents because they could be penalized for making false statements.