The National Archives and Records Administration last month retrieved multiple boxes from former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence after the records had been removed improperly from the White House, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The boxes, which contained documents and that should have been turned over to the agency, were recovered last month from Mar-a-Lago, three people familiar with the visit told the Post.
The Presidential Records Act requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.
All recent administrations have had some Presidential Records Act violations, the Post said. White House documents from past administrations have been retrieved by the Archives after a president left office. Most violations involved the use of unofficial email and telephone accounts.
Trump advisers deny the boxes were removed with evil intent. They said the cartons contained mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence.
“I don’t think he did this out of malicious intent to avoid complying with the Presidential Records Act,” one former Trump White House official told the Post. “As long as he’s been in business, he’s been very transactional and it was probably his longtime practice and I don’t think his habits changed when he got to the White House.”
The National Archives received some documents taped back together or still in pieces from Trump.
The Post said some damaged documents were among those turned over to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s partisan House Jan. 6 select committee, comprised of Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans.
Charles Tiefer, former counsel to the House of Representatives, said there “is a high bar” for enforcing the federal records law.
“You can’t prosecute for just tearing up papers,” Tiefer told the Post. “You would have to show him being highly selective and have evidence that he wanted to behave unlawfully.”
Preserving records is important to help the next administration, and for history.
“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 told the Post.
Although the law requires presidents to preserve records related to an administration’s activities, The Presidential Records Act operates on the basis of a “gentlemen’s agreement,” one Archives official told the Post.
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