In theory, this was just a formality involving the transfer of paperwork from an ex-office president’s to the national archives. It was everything from routine, however, much like the rest of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Justice Department’s filing regarding the search of his Florida house lent credence to the persistent rumors of sloppiness.
This week, officials detailed where the ex-president kept top-secret files at Mar-a-Lago, including a photo that went viral showing blurred, secret documents strewn on flowered carpet, next to a cardboard Bankers Box with keepsakes like a framed Time magazine cover.
The filing is an extremely public exchange between Trump’s attorneys and the government, demonstrating how seemingly innocuous demands for records from the National Archives and Records Administration have escalated into a hostile response from the Justice Department.
According to former NARA litigation director Jason R. Baron, “it would have been an unusual occurrence for NARA officials to have to make multiple queries as to missing presidential records.” According to White House historian Ken Starr, “I assume that the staff were asking valid inquiries based on awareness that certain documents looked to be missing and concern regarding stories of earlier document shredding at the White House.”
While Trump has denied any wrongdoing, he has provided no credible explanation for how he came to possess the records or why he didn’t turn them over sooner, as his attorneys have stated. Although officials have maintained in court documents that Trump never indicated they were declassified, the president has taken to his social media platform, Truth Social, to argue they were. Furthermore, the photo released this week does not appear to demonstrate that any markings have been scratched out.
Trump’s final year in administration, beginning in January 2021, was the beginning of the document caper. According to a court filing released on Tuesday, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which is responsible for preserving all manner of official documents, had “ongoing communications,” albeit tense, with Trump’s representatives after the agency “perceived” records were missing and asked that they be handed over.
According to former US archivists, the agency stores so much information that it’s doubtful that the lost records were discovered through a simple process like tallying overdue books. One source estimated that the data generated by a single modern presidential administration may fill petabytes of space, or the equivalent of several hundred laptops’ worth of data, as well as thousands of storage containers.
That wasn’t how things were supposed to go.
The first step is to write a letter to the agency head requesting any outstanding paperwork. Give them a deadline of at least 30 days. A former acting NARA archivist, Trudy Huskamp Peterson, described this as the “how it begins” when asked about the standard procedure for recovering papers from resistant officials. In the end, if you work in the Executive Branch, your only option is to contact the President. Possibly, albeit it sounds a bit far-fetched. Alternatively, you might inform the Congress that the agency in question is being uncooperative and is delaying the delivery of required information. However, that won’t help your case either. So, you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, which is negotiating.
Baron, who believes the initial report that there was “more material” at Mar-a-Lago came from an inside source, said, “If NARA officials weren’t getting good answers, they would certainly have undertaken further investigations, which in this case led to the return of the original 15 boxes.”
According to an ongoing investigation, a NARA official could not speak further.
Investigators reached this dramatic juncture because of Trump’s habit of ripping up documents and generally shoddy record-keeping.
There was an affidavit produced lately that was supposed to support the FBI search on August 8; it describes how, after months of talks, Trump turned over 15 boxes of files in January. The archivists’ intuitions rang as they looked at them.
Concerningly, highly secret records were unfolded, jumbled together with other papers, and improperly identified, NARA wrote to the FBI.
In addition to newspaper clippings, personal documents, and other inconsequential paperwork, the boxes also contained “a lot of classified records.” Trump had ripped up some of the so-called “presidential records” because he always does this after he’s finished with a document. A federal statute that forbids hiding, removing, or “mutilating” documents would be broken if any official document were torn up.