Donald Trump says he can declassify top secret government documents just “by thinking about it”.
Asked about the process needed to do that, Mr Trump said: “You know, there’s different people say different things.
“There doesn’t have to be (a process), as I understand it. If you’re the president of the United States, you can declasify just by saying ‘it’s declassified’, even by thinking about it. Because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it.
“And there doesn’t have to be a process. There can be a process, but there doesn’t have to be.”
The question of whether the papers found at his Florida home remained classified or not – and how much bearing that has on whether he was allowed to have them – has been debated since the 8 August search.
While Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that the papers were declassified, his lawyers have hesitated about making the same claims in court.
On Tuesday the matter came before federal judge Raymond J Dearie, who was appointed a special master – essentially an impartial arbiter – at Mr Trump’s insistence. He asked Mr Trump’s legal team what measures, if any, the former president had taken to declassify the papers.
When they declined to give any details, Judge Dearie said: “My view is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Critics have suggested that Mr Trump’s insistence that a special master be appointed is little more than a delaying tactic in a case that could have serious legal repercussions for him.
The Department of Justice is investigating whether the former president broke the law by hoarding the papers, some of them the very highest level of security, at his home after the National Archives spent the best part of a year trying to get them back.
Mr Trump insists he did nothing wrong and is the victim of a politically-motivated “witch hunt”.