Trump’s insistence on conducting official business on Twitter means that his social media content must now be held accountable to recordkeeping laws. CREW urges the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to work directly with social media companies around capturing social media content for preservation in compliance with federal laws. The Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act legally require the president, his office, and government officials to maintain these records for eventual public access. However, given the Trump administration’s historic failures in record preservation, there is little public confidence in the administration’s adherence to recordkeeping laws on social media.
Trump has notoriously used Twitter and other social media platforms to announce official actions. For example, in 2017, Trump announced in a series of tweets that he would ban transgender people from military service. He has also used Twitter to announce job terminations and hirings, like his firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and appointment of Mike Pompeo. These instances underscore the importance of preserving Trump’s social media so that there is a comprehensive account of the Trump presidency.
Trump officials have often followed suit, using their public platform to show their allegiance to the president and conduct official business. In some cases, officials have even been reprimanded for violating laws on social media. Former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conaway, Trade Advisor Peter Navarro, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley were all reprimanded for violating the Hatch Act, which bans officials from using their official positions for political purposes, like supporting Trump’s re-election campaign on their official Twitter accounts.
Not only has the Trump administration used unconventional channels to announce matters of national importance, they have also often tried to hide or destroy documentation of their actions. Trump has ripped up documents, hidden White House visitor logs, and even barred interpreters from taking notes during meetings with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The EPA destroyed water-damaged, but recoverable, documents on water quality records and then attempted to deceive NARA when asked for the records. Most recently, CDC Director Robert Redfield came under fire for ordering his subordinates to destroy records related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
NARA already engages social media companies in its transition-specific records guidance process, but this year’s process cannot be treated like any previous transition. The Trump administration’s track record of failing to preserve required records and their repeated use of social media as a channel for communicating important information to the public means that NARA must do everything in its power to protect the ability to fully preserve these records. This includes working directly with social media companies around the capture of content that might otherwise be lost forever. The ability of the American people to access a full historical record of this administration lies in the balance.
The Trump administration’s recurring failures in transparency might not be able to be entirely fixed, but they must not be made worse during the change in administration. CREW has previously sued the White House and started investigations into Jared Kushner and other Trump officials, to safeguard against the threat of the Trump administration destroying or concealing presidential records. Now, NARA must take immediate action to hold the administration accountable and provide the public a full record of the Trump administration’s communications with the public on social media.