Historians, watchdog sue Trump to prevent records from being destroyed

Historians on Tuesday sued the Trump administration over a White House policy of taking screen shots to preserve smartphone messages as presidential records, saying it is in violation of the Presidential Records Act. Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI
Historians on Tuesday sued the Trump administration over a White House policy of taking screen shots to preserve smartphone messages as presidential records, saying it is in violation of the Presidential Records Act. Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- A group of historians and a government accountability watchdog has sued the Trump administration to force it to preserve complete records amid the presidential transition, accusing White House policies of permitting the destruction of historically important documents.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday says current White House policies allowing officials to only take a screenshot of electronic messages sent or received through unofficial messaging smartphone services is in violation of the law as it permits the loss and destruction of presidential records as only a graphic is preserved while all digital links, attachments and metadata are lost.


Filed by the National Security Archive, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the American Historical Association and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the lawsuit accuses this policy of violating the Presidential Records Act, which requires the president and his staff to document and preserve records of "the activities, deliberations, decisions and policies that reflect the performance of the president's constitutional, statutory or other official or ceremonial duties."


"The Presidential Records Act exists for a simple reason: to prevent presidents and their staff from destroying historically valuable records," CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. "By deleting or preserving only parts of these records, the White House is destroying essential historical records."

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The plaintiffs said this skirting by the White House of its record-keeping responsibility is part of a larger pattern by President Donald Trump and his staff that is becoming more concerning as he faces the end of his term in office and facing potential legal and financial exposure as a citizen.

"The actions of the president since losing the election -- unrestrained by truth and facts -- have heightened concerns that he will destroy records of his 'potential malfeasance and crimes,'" they said in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs offered as evidence Trump's practice of ripping up notes at the end of meetings, his deleting of tweets despite being warned against doing so by the National Archives and Records Administration and his alleged confiscation of notes from his interpreter following a July 2017 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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CREW has previously called out Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who hold senior positions within his administration, for communicating through private email accounts and messaging applications in violation of the PRA.


President Trump, Kushner, the Executive Office of the President, David Ferriero as archivist of the United States and the National Archives and Records Administration are named as defendants.

The suit seeks to order the defendants to preserve "complete copies" of all presidential records while declaring the White House screen-shotting policy to be unlawful.

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"With President Trump's term in office soon coming to an end, absent judicial intervention, this conduct will permanently deprive Plaintiffs and the public of records documenting a critical part of our nation's history," the lawsuits argues.

The White House responded to the suit in a statement, saying, "The Trump administration acts in accordance with statutory requirements."

The same coalition minus the American Historical Association filed a similar suit against the Trump administration that was dismissed early this year, with the court stating it "lacks authority to oversee the President's day-to-day compliance with the statutory provisions involved in the case."

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U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in her February opinion that it wasn't an endorsement of the administration's actions.

"This opinion will not address, and should not be interpreted to endorse the challenged practices; nor does it include any finding that the Executive Office is in compliance with its obligations," she wrote.


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