CREW has filed two lawsuits with the National Security Archive (NSA) and Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) on the Trump administration’s failure to keep records of meetings with foreign leaders.
Suing Trump and the White House under the Presidential Records Act
In May 2019, CREW, NSA and SHAFR sued Trump and the Executive Office of the President for violating the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and the Federal Records Act (FRA) by intentionally failing to create and preserve records during meetings with Vladimir Putin, the Saudis, and Kim Jong-Un.
Trump’s obstruction of note-taking during meetings with foreign officials is illegal and a threat to our national security and government transparency. For at least 5 meetings between Putin and Trump, there is no US public record of the meeting nor was there a notetaker present, with one instance of Trump even confiscating notes from an interpreter. Meetings between Kim Jong-Un and Trump also lacked transcription. When meeting with the Saudis, Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner avoided including State Department officials in the meeting, preventing the creation of records of the meeting.
The release of the whistleblower complaint in September revealed that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival. The complaint further alleged that White House and other executive branch officials had mismanaged records of politically sensitive conversations between President Trump and foreign leaders, including the Ukraine call.
On October 1, 2019, CREW, NSA and SHAFR filed a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to seek assurances that the records relevant to the pending lawsuit would not become a part of this pattern of destroying records. The following day, the government agreed to preserve records and a judge issued an order holding them to that.
Suing Pompeo and the State Department under the Federal Records Act
On November 4, 2019, CREW, NSA and SHAFR sued the State Department and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for violating the FRA by using secretive and irregular diplomatic channels that bypassed the recordkeeping system, in order to enlist the help of Ukrainian operatives to interfere with US elections.
In at least one instance, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland directed that no one transcribe a call between State Department officials and Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky. Officials also regularly used encrypted messenger apps to conduct official business without ensuring that those messages were preserved.
Other Recordkeeping Complaints
In June 2018, CREW and American Oversight wrote a letter to the administration requesting Trump stop physically destroying documents. The president had a habit of ripping up official documents after using them, which was also a violation of the PRA. The year before, CREW and NSA also sued Trump under the PRA for his use of confidential messaging applications and destruction of tweets.
- PRA: Complaint - May 7, 2019
- PRA: Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss - Aug. 12, 2019
- PRA: Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss - Sept. 13, 3019
- PRA: Temporary Restraining Order - Oct. 1, 2019
- PRA: Plaintiff's Amended Motion for TRO - Oct. 1, 2019
- PRA: Defendant's Reply - Oct. 17, 2019
- PRA: Plaintiffs' Supplemental Brief - Dec. 2, 2019
- PRA: Defendant's Supplemental Brief - Dec. 2, 2019
- FRA: Complaint - Nov. 5, 2019
- FRA: Motion to Dismiss - Jan. 13, 2020
- FRA: Declaration of Eric F Stein - Jan. 13, 2020