CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz | CREW
202-408-5565 | [email protected]
Washington — President Trump and White House officials appear to have violated the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act by intentionally failing to create and preserve records related to meetings with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un and other foreign government officials, according to a lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), National Security Archive (the Archive) and Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR).
The lawsuit details numerous instances, including five meetings between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, when no note takers were present and no official U.S. record of the meetings exists. The administration’s recordkeeping failures extend to Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner, who in a recent meeting with top Saudi officials excluded State Department officials, thereby avoiding the creation of a record of his conversations.
“It is clear that President Trump and White House officials have gone to great lengths to hold high-level meetings with foreign governments and carry out foreign policy objectives while blatantly ignoring recordkeeping laws and preventing national security officials and the American people from understanding what they are doing,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “The absence of records in these circumstances causes real, incalculable harm to our national security and poses a direct threat to transparency for the American public. We’re asking the court to compel White House officials to make and maintain these important records that let the public know what the government is up to and provide a safeguard to our history.”
“The Archive went to court to preserve presidential records when President Reagan tried to junk his email backup tapes in 1989. We have sued every president ever since, Democratic and Republican, to make sure the White House obeyed the records laws,” said National Security Archive director Tom Blanton. “Today, the problem goes beyond improperly shredding records, to the deliberate failure to create the records in the first place.”
“Keeping records of top-level meetings has been part of common-sense diplomatic practice for centuries. Failing to make or keep records damages not only the capacity of history to render judgment in the future, but also of government to pursue the country’s interests in the present,” said SHAFR President Barbara Keys. “It also undermines the principle of government accountability that is the very bedrock of democracy.”
The PRA was enacted to establish public ownership of presidential and vice presidential records, to impose record-keeping requirements on the president and vice president, and to authorize the National Archives and Records Administration to preserve and make publicly available presidential records. In a previous letter to White House Counsel, CREW flagged potential PRA violations coming from the White House and called the administration’s recordkeeping practices a significant departure from accepted archival preservation.