The Trump administration’s notorious record keeping failures perpetuated a culture of secrecy that must be reversed. Multiple agencies failed to keep adequate records or rushed to destroy paper trails that could have exposed wrongdoing and enabled accountability. It’s not too late for the National Archives and Records Administration to ensure that no more records are destroyed and give the public a full accounting of questionable records destruction practices.
In one of the more blatant examples of record keeping failures, the EPA under Scott Pruitt destroyed water quality records and then attempted to deceive the archivist, telling him they had not destroyed records yet when in fact they already had, according to 2020 records obtained by CREW. Pruitt also instructed political staff to seal out career staff, not to bring cellular devices into meetings, and prohibited staff from taking notes or written records on substantive matters, including a water quality rule. Pruitt himself, in an attempt to circumvent accountability, kept a secret calendar to hide meetings, used non-EPA phones to take EPA-related calls, and avoided the use of official email.
CREW requests NARA records on potential or actual records disposal plans from the Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Interior, Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Agency for Global Media.
In another fight against records destruction following a CREW lawsuit, a judge ruled that ICE could not destroy records of civil rights violations that it planned to dispose of. These are just a few examples of serious violations of record keeping rules during the Trump era. The public deserves to know the full picture of recordkeeping problems under Trump and whether issues have been addressed to ensure future administrations cannot circumvent recordkeeping regulations.