Trump Gives Documents Improperly Taken From White House to Archives
Former President Donald J. Trump last month handed over to the National Archives 15 boxes of documents, letters, gifts and mementos that he had taken with him when leaving office but that he had been legally required to leave in the custody of the federal government, officials said on Monday.
The materials included the original versions of a letter that former President Barack Obama had left for Mr. Trump when he was first sworn in, as well as correspondence from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. The items also included a map Mr. Trump famously drew on with a black Sharpie marker to demonstrate the track of Hurricane Dorian heading toward Alabama in 2019 to back up a declaration he had made on Twitter that contradicted weather forecasts.
The boxes contained items taken from the White House’s residence during a hasty exit after Mr. Trump had spent the bulk of the presidential transition trying to find ways to stay in power, according to two people familiar with the process of how the boxes were returned. At the time, Mr. Trump’s aides were either preoccupied with helping him overturn the election, trying to stop him or avoiding him.
The Washington Post reported earlier that Mr. Trump had handed over the boxes to the National Archives.
Other items in the boxes were reams of news clips printed out for Mr. Trump, as well as at least one item of clothing, the people familiar with the process said.
Mr. Trump handed over the materials after several months of back and forth between his lawyers and the National Archives, which houses presidential records and eventually makes many of them public.
The National Archives said in a statement that it obtained the boxes in mid-January and that Mr. Trump’s lawyers told the agency that “they are continuing to search for additional presidential records that belong to the National Archives.”
The disclosure is yet the latest example of a lack of strict adherence by Mr. Trump and some of his aides to the laws intended to preserve government documents and shield classified information from foreign enemies.
Despite his criticism of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign for using a private email server while she was secretary of state, Mr. Trump was notorious for tearing up White House documents and leaving them in the trash or on the floor. Politico reported in 2018 that some administration officials even had to tape back together shredded documents to ensure the White House complied with federal record keeping laws.
During the administration, top White House aides — including Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — were found to have used personal email accounts for government work.
More recently, in response to the House select committee investigation into the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, provided hundreds of pages of documents, some of which came from his personal cellphone. The committee said it had questions about why Mr. Meadows had used a personal cellphone, a Signal account and two personal Gmail accounts to conduct official business, and whether he had properly turned over all records from those accounts to the National Archives.
In late January, the National Archives said that among the documents that Mr. Trump sought to block from handing over to the committee were ones Mr. Trump had torn up.
“These were turned over to the National Archives at the end of the Trump administration, along with a number of torn-up records that had not been reconstructed by the White House,” according to a statement released by the National Archives at the time. “The Presidential Records Act requires that all records created by presidents be turned over to the National Archives at the end of their administrations.”
In a statement, David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, did not criticize Mr. Trump or directly accuse him of violating the Presidential Records Act. But Mr. Ferriero strongly defended the National Archives’ mission and the need for presidents to follow federal record keeping laws.
“The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” Mr. Ferriero said. “Whether through the creation of adequate and proper documentation, sound records management practices, the preservation of records or the timely transfer of them to the National Archives at the end of an administration, there should be no question as to need for both diligence and vigilance. Records matter.”
It is unclear what gifts Mr. Trump handed over to the National Archives. Under federal law, Mr. Trump could keep any gifts that were given to him under roughly $400. If he wanted to keep any gifts from foreigners over that threshold, he would have had to pay the federal government their appraised value.
Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.