Donald Trump and officials in his administration have been sued in federal court by historian groups, an independent archive and a watchdog organization over concerns that the defeated, outgoing president will destroy records of his presidency before leaving office.
The American Historical Association, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Dec. 1. The groups cited concerns that Trump, facing “potential legal and financial exposure once he leaves office,” will vaporize anything that he thinks could be incriminating.
“Presidential records are always at risk because the law that’s supposed to protect them is so weak,” Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said. “The archive, historians and CREW are suing to put some backbone in the law and prevent any bonfire of records in the Rose Garden.”
The Archive was compelled to file the legal action after it received no response to a Nov. 13 letter it wrote to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone seeking express assurances that all presidential records would be preserved.
Trump and his administration have flouted records laws almost from the moment he was inaugurated. After a 2017 meeting in Hamburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin Trump took possession of his interpreter’s notes and instructed the linguist not to discuss any details of the meeting.
It was also reported by Politico in 2018 that Trump routinely rips up paper he has finished reading and either throws it in the trash or on the floor. At the time White House aides were so concerned that Trump’s paper shredding habits were a violation of records preservation laws that they enlisted staffers in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House to tape the scraps of paper back together for preservation.
The groups’ lawsuit also specifically calls out Trump son-in-law for his actions as a senior adviser in the administration. Jared Kushner has admitted using his insecure, non-official messaging account with WhatsApp or private email to communicate with foreign leaders. Kushner’s attorney told Congress in 2018 that Kushner was using screenshots of the communications as a records preservation method. But the groups’ lawsuit points out that screenshots are insufficient because they do not capture metadata of the communications or other attachments that could be of historical value.