It was a bad day for Trump. It was a far worse day for Judge Cannon in Florida. The appeals court ruled that every element of Judge Cannon’s ruling was incorrect, and totally agreed with the DoJ in every particular.
Trump’s declassification argument was ruled (1) unproved; and (2) even if it had been proved, irrelevant. It is irrelevant for two reasons: (1) declassification does not impact the content of the documents, and none of the cited criminal statutes are affected by whether any documents are classified; (2) even if everything was declassified, the documents would still belong to the United States, not to Trump, and the government agents therefore had the right, and obligation, to seize them.
The appeal was reviewed by a three-judge panel, two of whom were Trump appointees.
There is another issue with declassification that nobody has mentioned but (surprisingly) Bill Barr. If Trump did in fact declassify some documents that include material that needs to be secret for the security of the United States, thus making them accessible to anyone through the freedom of information act, that would be an act of recklessness more dangerous than anything else Trump has ever done.
To make an extreme example, suppose some documents showed that Al-Qaeda was developing a nuclear weapon, based on a tip by our spy within Al Qaeda. If declassification allowed Al-Qaeda to find out about the spy and to move their base of operations, and thus to continue the operation while eliminating our eyes on it, that would be providing aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States.
Declassifying that kind of information would meet the precise constitutional definition of treason. If I were in his shoes, I’d be less concerned with a charge of mishandling some papers than a charge of treason. I think it would be wise of him to drop that “I declassified everything” argument.
But then again, when has he ever been wise?
Note: The fact that somebody has the POWER to do something does not automatically make it legal. A President of the United States has pretty much unlimited power to grant federal pardons, but if he offered to grant pardons for ten million dollars each, it would still be corrupt and would be prosecuted (after the President left office) under the RICO and other statutes.
Similarly, the Vice-President has the POWER to break a tie in the Senate, but if she were to do so in return for a massive kickback from the Pharma companies, it would be criminal.
The same logic applies to declassification. If the Presidential declassification of a necessarily secret document provides aid and comfort to America’s enemies … well, he has the POWER to do that, but it could be an act of treason.
(Those are hypothetical arguments. I have no idea what is actually in the secret papers because … well, mainly because if a schmuck like me knew, they wouldn’t be very secret, would they?)
HUMOROUS SIDEBAR: I assume that back in his school days, Trump’s excuse for not having his homework was that he did it in his head. Today he said there is no documentation of declassification because he did it in his head!
“If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s declassified.’ Even by thinking about it.”
He also speculated that the FBI may have been looking in his desk for the missing Hilary Clinton e-mails, a speculation which is utterly demented even by his own lofty standards.