Senior GOP senators reject Trump’s declassification comments and call for proper preservation of secret records

In interviews with CNN, the senators blasted Trump’s claim that everything was handled properly, distancing themselves from many in the party who have brushed aside questions on the matter or fiercely defended the former president.

Asked about Trump’s claim on Fox News that he thought he could declassify the documents and that there is no process to follow, Senate GOP Whip John Thune told CNN there is a process to declassify the documents.

“And I think that should be enforced and followed. And I think that should apply to anyone who has access to or deals with classified information,” Thune said.

“I think the concern is that there’s no way to declassify what’s been released from the White House or that classified documents have been removed — without proper warrants,” the South Dakota Republican continued, “I think that. The Department of Justice is getting it.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, a two-term Republican from North Carolina who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN he believes there is a process a president must follow to declassify records.

“I think there needs to be a formal process that needs to be done and documented,” Tillis said. “And to the extent that they were declassified, during the process, that’s fine… As I understand the executive. Branch requirements, there needs to be a process.”

Senator Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, called the handling of the classified documents “very serious.”

“I think anyone who takes the time to properly protect that information and who takes the time to look at what’s in the information would have serious concerns about how the items can be accessed if the items are not stored properly,” Rounds told CNN. “And again, up here, we take it very seriously. People can get hurt, people can die if it’s not stored properly, and if that information gets out.”

The comments differ from GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell, who has largely declined to comment on the Mar-a-Lago search, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has defended Trump throughout the process.

On Thursday, other senators deflected questions on the matter.

“I think it’s within the president’s prerogative to declassify,” Indiana Sen. Mike Braun said when asked about Trump’s comments. “I don’t know what the right methodology is, I think we’ll find out how.”