A public records release sheds some new light on the FBI’s raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, and the 15 boxes of documents that Trump previously provided.
Late Monday, the National Archives and Records Administration released 65 pages of documents in response to a public records request from the Heritage Oversight Project, The Daily Signal, and other media and watchdog organizations.
The documents referenced North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump’s predecessor in the White House, and lengthy correspondence with archives officials and House Democrats investigating Trump pressing that he be “accountable” for possible violation of the Presidential Records Act, a law that requires presidents leaving office transfer administration records to the National Archives.
Trump had possession of classified information, and some documents were torn-up and taped back together, according to the information.
However, the National Archives invoked various exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act to stop the release of some 3,000 pages of documents. The reasons for the exemptions included an ongoing Justice Department investigation and the agency’s deliberations with Congress on what to release.
The Heritage Foundation, the parent organization of The Daily Signal, sued the National Archives and the Justice Department in September after the two agencies refused to comply with public record requests regarding the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago in August.
The documents offered only a glimpse of correspondence between the 45th president and North Korean dictator Kim, Trump’s predecessor in the White House, and lengthy exchanges with archives officials and House Democrats.
Here are six key takeaways from the records.
1. Kim Jong Un Correspondence
On May 6, 2021, National Archives general counsel Gary Stern emailed lawyers who served in the Trump White House, Patrick Philbin, Mike Purpura, and Scott Gast, about obtaining records.
The email said that Gast “has been very helpful” in assisting with social media records from Trump, but noted, “There are also now certain paper/textual records that we cannot account for.”
“For example, the original correspondence between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un were not transferred to us; it is our understanding that in January 2021, just prior to the end of the administration, the originals were put in a binder for the president, but were never returned to the Office of Records Management for transfer to NARA,” Stern wrote in the email. “It is essential that these original records be transferred to NARA as soon as possible.”
Trump met with Kim in 2018 to attempt to convince the dictator to denuclearize.
2. Obama’s Letter for Trump’s First Day
The same email message from Stern sought a letter from President Barack Obama to Trump during the presidential transition.
“Similarly, the letter that President Obama left for President Trump on his first day in office has not been transferred; since that letter was received by President Trump after his term commenced, it is a presidential record – note that all of NARA’s other presidential libraries maintain the original copy of similar letters, and it is necessary that this one be provided to us as well,” Stern wrote in the email to the former Trump presidential lawyers.
Correspondence between presidents, such as Obama and Trump, could contribute to the historical record.
After negotiations, Trump transferred 15 boxes of documents to the National Archives in January.
3. House Democrats Hound Archives on Trump
In February, House Democrats began stressing that “Trump and his senior advisors must also be held accountable” for violation of the Presidential Records Act.
On Feb. 9, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., pushed the National Archives for more information about documents it obtained from Trump.
“The committee is seeking information about the 15 boxes of presidential records that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently recovered from former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence,” the Maloney letter to Archivist David S. Ferriero says.
“I am deeply concerned that these records were not provided to NARA promptly at the end of the Trump administration and that they appear to have been removed from the White House in violation of the Presidential Records Act,” the letter says.
The Maloney letter came two days after The Washington Post first reported Trump had removed 15 boxes of documents from the White House for storage at his Mar-a-Lago home.
“Removing or concealing government records is a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison,” Maloney wrote. “Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, for example, was prosecuted for taking classified documents from NARA. Former President Trump and his senior advisors must also be held accountable for any violations of the law.”
Berger, who was President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser, took documents related to the 9/11 Commission investigation.
The letter went on to ask eight questions, with a deadline of Feb. 18 to respond.
On Feb. 17, House Democrat staffer Krista Boyd asked in an email, “I’m checking in to confirm that NARA will respond to the chairwoman’s letter by tomorrow’s deadline.” National Archives Director of Congressional Affairs John Hamilton responded, “We are working on it, and we hope to have it for you tomorrow.” The next morning, he wrote another email, “I expect to have the letter to you later this afternoon.”
On Feb. 18, 2022, Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, responded to most of the questions, stating in his letter to Maloney, “NARA had ongoing communications with the representatives of former President Trump throughout 2021, which resulted in the transfer of 15 boxes to NARA in January 2022.”
The Presidential Records Act requires that presidents leaving office transfer administration records to the National Archives.
“With respect to the Trump presidential records, the legal transfer took place on Jan. 20, 2021. However, it is not uncommon for there to be a delay before NARA takes physical custody of all of the records.”
Maloney asked if the agency “conducted an inventory of the contents of the boxes recovered from Mar-a-Lago?” The archivist responded, “NARA is in the process of inventorying the contents of the boxes.”
4. ‘Classified National Security Information’
Maloney’s Feb. 9 letter also asked the question that is key to the FBI’s probe of Trump and the records.
“Are the contents of the boxes of records recovered by NARA undergoing a review to determine if they contain classified information? If so, who is conducting that review and has any classified information been found?”
In the Feb. 18 response letter, Ferriero wrote, “NARA has identified items marked as classified national security information within the boxes.”
He was referring to the information in the 15 boxes of documents Trump provided in January.
5. Social Media and ‘Electronic Messaging’
Maloney asked if the agency was aware of “additional presidential records from the Trump administration that may be missing or not yet in NARA’s possession.”
The archivist responded, “NARA has identified certain social media records that were not captured and preserved by the Trump administration.”
“NARA has also learned that some White House staff conducted official business using non-official electronic messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded into their official electronic messaging accounts, as required by section 2209 of the PRA [Presidential Records Act]. NARA has already obtained or is in the process of obtaining some of those records,” he continued.
6. ‘Torn Up’ and ‘Tape Them Back Together’
In a Feb. 18 response to other questions, Ferriero said that the agency asked Trump representatives to continue to search for any additional presidential records that have not been transferred to the National Archives.
Regarding the question of whether Trump destroyed records, he went on to say the agency learned through press reports that Trump destroyed certain records in 2018, while Trump was still president.
“In June 2018, NARA learned from a press report in Politico that textual presidential records were being torn up by former President Trump and that White House staff were attempting to tape them back together,” Ferriero wrote.
NARA sent a letter to the deputy counsel to the president asking for information about the extent of the problem and how it is being addressed. The White House counsel’s office indicated that they would address the matter.
After the end of the Trump administration, NARA learned that additional paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump were included in the records transferred to us. Although White House staff during the Trump administration recovered and taped together some of the torn-up records, a number of other torn-up records that were transferred had not been reconstructed by the White House.
Maloney followed with a letter to the archivist saying the committee would expand its investigation, and sought more information.
“I am deeply concerned that former President Trump may have violated the law through his intentional efforts to remove and destroy records that belong to the American people,” Maloney wrote in a Feb. 24 letter. “This Committee plans to get to the bottom of what happened and assess whether further action is needed to prevent the destruction of additional presidential records and recover those records that are still missing.”
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