The Department of Justice must investigate whether Donald Trump violated the law by destroying records of his presidency before leaving office, according to a letter sent today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive. Trump likely violated criminal laws barring the destruction of government records by his repeated practice of tearing up documents while in office.
Recent reporting revealed that, despite repeated warnings from top White House officials, Trump continued to destroy government records until the end of his presidency. According to these reports, many of the shredded records were placed in burn bags to be permanently destroyed. The Presidential Records Act mandates that a president create and preserve all records of all of his actions and decisions, to be deposited with the National Archives after leaving office. The reporting underscores the larger pattern of Trump ignoring his recordkeeping obligations.
“Donald Trump’s repeated and apparently willful destruction of his presidential records threatens to deny the American people a full historical record of his presidency and an opportunity to hold him and his administration fully accountable for their actions while in power,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder. “There is no excuse for hiding important information from the public. The Department of Justice must act to investigate and to hold Trump accountable for his reckless behavior ”
“Violating the Presidential Records Act seems to bring no sanctions, as we found in multiple lawsuits trying to save White House records,” said National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton. “But the laws protecting government property and records from mutilation could disqualify former President Trump from ever holding public office again.”
This is not the first time CREW and the National Security Archive have taken action against the former president and his administration for failing to adhere to their recordkeeping obligations. In June 2017, CREW and the National Security Archive, along with the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, filed a lawsuit challenging the use by White House officials of encrypted apps that erase messages as they are read to discuss official business. In May 2019, the three groups also filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump violated the PRA by failing to create records of his key meetings and communications with foreign leaders, including Vladmir Putin and Kim Jong-Un. In December 2020, they sued the Trump administration for failing to comply with PRA mandates to capture and preserve electronic messages sent or received on unofficial messaging accounts.