Attorneys general from 14 states and the District of Columbia on Wednesday reminded President Donald Trump that, even though he only has a month left in office, he and his administration are still subject to federal laws requiring certain records be maintained and preserved.
In a three-page letter, the coalition of Democratic AGs requested that White House counsel Pat Cipollone take the requisite steps to ensure that officials in the Executive Office of the President—including President Donald Trump—understood and complied with the Presidential Records Act (PRA). Enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the PRA requires presidential administrations to retain all “documentary material” of “the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the President’s constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties.”
The letter emphasized that such the president is required to “take all such steps as may be necessary” to assure such material is preserved, which includes any unofficial means of communication and electronic messages.
The AGs said they were compelled to write the letter due to President Trump’s “utter disregard” for complying with recordkeeping obligations, and noted that the White House Counsel’s Office hadn’t issued a memorandum reiterating staffers’ obligations under the PRA since September of 2017. That memorandum noted that “willful destruction or concealment of federal records is a federal crime punishable by fines and imprisonment.”
Trump was sued earlier this year by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for failing to keep proper records of his meetings with the leaders of foreign nations as prescribed by the PRA. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson dismissed the complaint, reasoning that the court didn’t have the authority to police executive branch recordkeeping practices; the judge said the ruling should not be misinterpreted as the Court finding that the Trump administration’s actions were in compliance with the law. CREW signed on to another PRA lawsuit earlier this month that also accused White House advisor Jared Kushner of knowingly failing to preserve copies of electronic messages relating to his work with the administration.
“As detailed in a recently filed complaint, the President has shown an utter disregard for his recordkeeping obligations under the Presidential Records Act throughout his presidency. This includes, for example, President Trump’s practice of ripping up notes at the close of meetings, his practice of tweeting and then deleting his tweets, and his obstruction of notetaking,” the letter stated. “Additionally, it has been widely reported that Senior Advisor Jared Kushner communicates with other administration officials as well as foreign officials through WhatsApp and that Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump has used a personal email account to send emails concerning White House business. In light of these and other news reports, we have serious concerns about compliance by White House personnel with their Presidential Records Act obligations, including preservation of records and proper use of non-official electronic message accounts.”
Last year, the Washington Post reported that Trump had gone to “extraordinary lengths” in his efforts to conceal details of his meetings with Vladimir Putin, which has resulted in U.S. officials having “no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.”
The letter was sent by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) and joined by Democratic AGs from Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.
Read the full letter below:
[image via NBC News screengrab]
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