Yes, vice presidents can release documents

Several VERIFY readers asked if a vice president could release documents. You can – here’s why.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to examine documents with secret markings found at President Joe Biden’s Delaware home and at an office in Washington, DC. The documents date from Biden’s time as Vice President.

This has drawn comparisons to the discovery of hundreds of classified documents at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump has claims that the documents found at his Florida property “all have been declassified.”

Although Biden hasn’t claimed he released the documents found in his home and office, that hasn’t stopped some People on social media from claiming that the vice president “does not have the authority” to release documents – implying that Trump’s defense would not apply to Biden.

Several VERIFY readers asked the team if the vice president could release documents.


Can the vice president release documents?



This is true.

Yes, the vice president can release documents.


The claim that vice presidents cannot release documents while in office is “zero truth,” Kel McClanahan, executive director of the National Security Counselors, told VERIFY.

Richard Immerman, a historian and professor at Temple University, agrees. Biden had the opportunity to release documents while serving as vice president during the Obama administration, he said in an email.

A Vice President’s authority to release information derives from Executive Order 13526, which former President Barack Obama issued in 2009 when Biden was Vice President. This arrangement defines who may classify and release information.

It states that “the power to initially classify information shall be exercised only by the President and Vice President,” and by “chief executives and officials appointed by the President.”

There are four categories of people who can release a document under the executive order: the official who originally classified it, his successor, an inspector of either the originator or his successor, or officials who have been authorized in writing by a head of agency to do so .

The executive order “specifically appoints the vice president as one of the original classification authorities,” meaning they could release any information their office originally classified, McClanahan explained.

But what about documents originally classified by other offices or agencies? Although some experts have differing opinions on whether vice presidents count as inspectors, McClanahan said the vice president has the same sweeping authority to declassify documents as the president.

“For reasons of academic constitutional law, there may be an issue of whether or not the vice president is in that chain of command that can declassify things,” McClanahan said. “However, it has been long-standing practice in the executive branch for at least the last decade, if not more, to say that the vice president has delegated powers from the president and should be treated as equal.”

There are some other exceptions to what the President or Vice President can release, including information dealing with nuclear secrets. This information is regulated in a separate law called the Atomic Energy Act.

The president can also specifically prohibit the vice president from releasing certain information, McClanahan said. Yes, vice presidents can release documents

Laura Coffey

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