Trump could not have unilaterally declassified nuclear secrets — here's why
At a historic summit in June, US President Donald Trump and Kim signed a vaguely-worded statement on denuclearisation AFP/File / SAUL LOEB

While it is still not known what information the FBI seized in its search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, some of the former president's defenders have already started claiming that Trump could have simply declared all of the information he took declassified right before leaving office.

While the president does have very broad declassification powers, that defense would not hold up at all if the documents in question involved nuclear weapons.

As The Atlantic's Graeme Wood explains, American presidents cannot simply declassify nuclear-related information with the wave of a hand as they might be able to do with other classified information.

"The Atomic Energy Acts of 1946 and 1954 produced an even stranger category of classified knowledge," he writes. "Anything related to the production or use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power is inherently classified, and Trump could utter whatever words he pleased yet still be in possession of classified material."

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This means that any classification related to nuclear weapons would have to go through a formal process with oversight from other agencies and not just be subject to the president's will.

"The restrictions on documents of this type are incredibly tight," Wood notes. "If Trump was keeping nuclear secrets in the storeroom of his country club, without even the benefit of a padlock, and resisted attempts to secure those secrets against infiltrators and spies, a prosecutor might reasonably take more interest."