Historians believe that the destruction or misappropriation White House records poses a threat to posterity as well as the public interest. It could also be considered a crime.
Some historians and advocates for public-interest argue that Trump’s practice of destroying documents and his decision to bring at least 15 boxes home from Washington have revealed flaws in the law regarding the preservation of White House records. This has threatened to alter the picture of Trump’s presidency in ways that will be significant for posterity as well as the rule of law.
Lee White, who is the executive director of National Coalition for History, stated that “you can’t hold anybody accountable” and that you cannot write an accurate history if there’s not enough information. For historians, the old saying “If the tree falls in a forest and no one’s there”, is true. How are you going to determine if a record is missing?
The records of Trump’s presidency have been hot topics in Washington lately because of Trump’s efforts to hide information from the special House Committee investigating his role in Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. This was to prevent President Joe Biden’s victory (and Trump’s defeat) in 2020.
Trump was a notorious president who tore up White House records. The National Archives said it received documents that were taped back together, while others that were still in ruins.
Trump left office and took records with him to Mar-a-Lago, Florida. They were recently recovered by the National Archives. NBC News was informed by a source that the White House call logs for Jan. 6 don’t show Trump calling or speaking to anyone during the attack on the Capitol.
Maggie Haberman, a New York Times journalist, reports in her forthcoming book about Trump that White House aides found wads printed paper jamming toilets, and thought Trump had flushed them .
Trump stated Thursday that Haberman’s reporting on “Confidence Man,” which is due to be published in October, was false.
He said, “Another false story, that I flushed papers down a White House bathroom toilet is categorically untrue, and simply made up to get publicity for an largely fictitious novel.” He also confirmed that he had taken boxes with him to Mar-a-Lago. These boxes contained “letters and records”, newspapers, magazines, and other articles.
That set included what Trump once called “love letters” from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and the traditional predecessor-to-successor note that President Barack Obama left for Trump during the 2017 transition of power, as well as documents marked classified and “top secret,” The Washington Post reported.
The Presidential Records Act was enacted as a response to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. It was updated in 2014. White House officials, including the president are required to keep all documents and recordings in order to transfer them to the National Archives. This agency offers training for White House officials regarding the handling of information.
“Who could disagree with its merits?” In an interview, Mike Harrington, a former Representative from Massachusetts, asked the question. He was a cosponsor for the 1978 law. “And who can argue that this guy doesn’t care about the ground rules?”
Sometimes, White House records and other public property go missing. For example, in December 2009, President Barack Obama’s White House administration found 22 million emails that were missing from George W. Bush’s White House. These emails had been mislabeled. White House aides have always found ways to keep their communications private under Republican and Democratic administrations. This includes meeting lobbyists in coffee shops away from the White House grounds, to using party emails, and apps that automatically delete messages.
Trudy Peterson, acting archivist for the United States during President Bill Clinton’s first two years, stated that “you are going to make mistakes.” “What I find unusual at this point is the volume.”
Peterson stated that the White House should create and maintain documents as a matter “good governance” and democracy. She stated that records allow citizens to see how government operates and hold it accountable for its actions.
The law does not have an enforcement mechanism. It does not have a penalty and the National Archives can’t force a president or his staff to follow it.
Anne Weismann, a public interest lawyer who sued the government for Bush White House emails while she was chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Washington, stated that “the archivist does not have any legal authority. All they can do is advice.”
Weismann stated that federal courts have resisted civil suits regarding the Presidential Records Act, arguing that they are not involved in the separation-of-powers battle that exists between the legislative and executive branches of government. She said Trump’s actions could be considered criminal conduct under separate laws that prohibit the destruction of federal property or in federal buildings.
She said that both statutes are applicable, but that they are criminal statutes. This means that the conduct must be willful. “I believe the evidence suggests willful conduct.
Historians claim that past presidents treated their records with respect. This is due to a number of reasons including the law, the public interest in understanding the decisions made and the smooth transfer of wisdom and knowledge from one presidency to the next. Some historians believe Trump’s actions are a departure from what was the norm for presidents after Nixon.
James Grossman, the executive director of American Historical Association, stated that “the presidential records act was established so that this would not happen again.”