Feebraury 8, 2022
Former President Donald Trump improperly removed multiple boxes from the White House, which were retrieved by the National Archives and Records Administration last month from his Mar-a-Lago residence because they contained documents and other items that should have been turned over to the agency, according to three people familiar with the visit.
Indeed, The Washington Post reports, the recovery of the boxes from Trump’s Florida resort raises new concerns about his adherence to the Presidential Records Act—which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.
Trump advisers deny any nefarious intent and say that the boxes contained mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence. The items included correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as “love letters,” as well as a letter left for his successor by President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the contents.
Discussions between the Archives and the former president’s lawyers that began last year resulted in the transfer of the records in January, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Another person familiar with the materials said Trump advisers discussed what had to be returned in December. People familiar with the transfer, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal details.
The Archives declined to comment. A spokesperson for the former president did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Post, the Archives has struggled to cope with a president who flouted document retention requirements and frequently ripped up official documents, leaving hundreds of pages taped back together—or some that arrived at the Archives still in pieces. Some damaged documents were among those turned over to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
“The only way that a president can really be held accountable long term is to preserve a record about who said what, who did what, what policies were encouraged or adopted, and that is such an important part of the long-term scope of accountability—beyond just elections and campaigns,” presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky said.
From a national security perspective, Chervinsky added, if records and documents are not disclosed, “that could pose a real concern if the next administration is flying blind without that information.”
The recovery of documents from Trump’s Florida estate is just the latest example of what records personnel described as chronic difficulties in preserving records during the Trump era—the most challenging since Richard Nixon sought to block disclosure of official records, including White House tapes.
All recent administrations have had some Presidential Records Act violations, most often involving the use of unofficial email and telephone accounts. White House documents from multiple administrations also have been retrieved by the Archives after a president has left office.
But personnel familiar with recent administrations said the Trump era stands apart in the scale of the records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. One person familiar with the transfer characterized it as “out of the ordinary …. NARA has never had that kind of volume transfer after the fact like this.”
“Things that are national security-sensitive, or very clearly government documents, should have been a part of a first sweep—so the fact that it’s been this long doesn’t reflect well on [Trump],” said a lawyer who worked in the White House Counsel’s Office under Obama. “Why has it taken for a year for these boxes to get there? And are there more boxes?”
Research contact: @washingtonpost