National Archives Makes an Allegation Against Trump ~ Oct. 2, 2022

______________________________________________________________________________________________

National Archives officials last month told staff for House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) that they aren’t sure whether all presidential records from the Trump administration are in its custody, as federal law dictates, prompting the committee to set Sept. 27 as a deadline for an update. The National Archives declined to comment.

The whereabouts of those White House documents—both presidential records from everyday business and classified material—have been in the spotlight since the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. That was the culmination of more than a year of negotiations between the archives and Mr. Trump’s representatives over the custody of White House records, including boxes of papers that were returned to the archives in January and those seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August.

Under federal laws governing what happens to documents after a president leaves office and how classified materials should be handled, the National Archives and Records Administration, as it is officially known, is responsible for the documents’ safekeeping. The agency also manages presidential libraries.

The archives could face an uphill task in ensuring it has all the presidential records it should, based on a review of document handling through President Trump’s four-year term. The records could include such nonclassified documents as speech drafts, menus and programs from White House events, according to former presidential aides.

The National Archives staff typically collects boxes of records throughout the length of an administration. That didn’t happen during the Trump years, said Gary Stern, a career National Archives official, at a January 2021 panel organized by the American Historical Association.

“We really could not start picking up until January, and we couldn’t get it all done even by Jan. 20,” when President Biden was sworn into office, he said. The content of boxes retrieved by the archives since Mr. Trump left office suggests a lack of organization that could complicate the process of accounting for all the papers: An inventory given by the FBI after the Aug. 8 search detailed boxes containing a mix of documents, including press clippings and photographs as well as classified documents.

The archives might have a greater advantage in accounting for classified material because of a meticulous record-keeping system that has traditionally been in place at the National Security Council.

If followed properly, NSC officials and later the nation’s archivists would have a record of who accessed classified material and an inventory of those documents, in addition to the documents themselves, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen former NSC officials. A document that was sent to the Oval Office but never returned would show up as missing, these former officials said.

“This tracking, indexing system at the NSC was exceedingly unusual within the federal government” and was designed to ensure that documents that went from the NSC to the president were returned to the NSC and cataloged, said Bill Leary, NSC director of records and access management under President George W. Bush and during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Some document-accounting methods have varied slightly through the years. In the Bush administration, papers frequently came back to the NSC via the office of Harriet Miers, White House staff secretary, with a stamp “president has seen” under an arrangement between Ms. Miers and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, while in the Obama administration, papers would be returned with the label “BFO,” for “back from Oval,” according to former officials.

The Trump administration at times broke with such protocols—even inside the NSC—according to interviews, congressional testimony, legal filings and other official reports. That could potentially complicate the National Archives’ efforts to account for all documents today,

WASHINGTON—The National Archives faces a Tuesday deadline to update a congressional committee on a key question: Are there still documents from the Trump White House that are unaccounted for?

National Archives officials last month told staff for House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) that they aren’t sure whether all presidential records from the Trump administration are in its custody, as federal law dictates, prompting the committee to set Sept. 27 as a deadline for an update. The National Archives declined to comment.

The whereabouts of those White House documents—both presidential records from everyday business and classified material—have been in the spotlight since the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. That was the culmination of more than a year of negotiations between the archives and Mr. Trump’s representatives over the custody of White House records, including boxes of papers that were returned to the archives in January and those seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August.

Under federal laws governing what happens to documents after a president leaves office and how classified materials should be handled, the National Archives and Records Administration, as it is officially known, is responsible for the documents’ safekeeping. The agency also manages presidential libraries.

The archives could face an uphill task in ensuring it has all the presidential records it should, based on a review of document handling through President Trump’s four-year term. The records could include such nonclassified documents as speech drafts, menus and programs from White House events, according to former presidential aides.

The National Archives staff typically collects boxes of records throughout the length of an administration. That didn’t happen during the Trump years, said Gary Stern, a career National Archives official, at a January 2021 panel organized by the American Historical Association.

“We really could not start picking up until January, and we couldn’t get it all done even by Jan. 20,” when President Biden was sworn into office, he said. The content of boxes retrieved by the archives since Mr. Trump left office suggests a lack of organization that could complicate the process of accounting for all the papers: An inventory given by the FBI after the Aug. 8 search detailed boxes containing a mix of documents, including press clippings and photographs as well as classified documents.

The archives might have a greater advantage in accounting for classified material because of a meticulous record-keeping system that has traditionally been in place at the National Security Council.

If followed properly, NSC officials and later the nation’s archivists would have a record of who accessed classified material and an inventory of those documents, in addition to the documents themselves, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen former NSC officials. A document that was sent to the Oval Office but never returned would show up as missing, these former officials said.

“This tracking, indexing system at the NSC was exceedingly unusual within the federal government” and was designed to ensure that documents that went from the NSC to the president were returned to the NSC and cataloged, said Bill Leary, NSC director of records and access management under President George W. Bush and during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Some document-accounting methods have varied slightly through the years. In the Bush administration, papers frequently came back to the NSC via the office of Harriet Miers, White House staff secretary, with a stamp “president has seen” under an arrangement between Ms. Miers and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, while in the Obama administration, papers would be returned with the label “BFO,” for “back from Oval,” according to former officials.

The Trump administration at times broke with such protocols—even inside the NSC—according to interviews, congressional testimony, legal filings and other official reports. That could potentially complicate the National Archives’ efforts to account for all documents today,

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly earlier told The Wall Street Journal that when he got to the White House six months into Mr. Trump’s term, the proper method for handling classified material “was not particularly well observed in a lot of cases.”

New issues around how documents were handled arose after Mr. Trump in a July 2019 phone call urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, one of his expected 2020 presidential rivals, and his son Hunter Biden.

NSC General Counsel John Eisenberg “gave the go-ahead” to put a summary of that call on a classified server, according to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an NSC official who testified when the Democratic-led House opened impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump over the call. Mr. Trump was impeached in the House and acquitted in the Senate.

The decision to store the record of that call with classified materials was recommended by Mr. Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis, according to the witness testimony. A different witness in the impeachment proceedings, NSC official Timothy Morrison, testified that Mr. Eisenberg indicated he wanted to restrict access to the transcript but that his direction was mistakenly interpreted to mean placing the call record on a secure server typically reserved for national-security secrets.

John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national-security adviser, wrote in a memoir about his White House experiences that “until the Ukraine controversy broke, I was not aware we ever deviated” from their agreed-upon records policy, “including ‘storage’ procedures.”

WASHINGTON—The National Archives faces a Tuesday deadline to update a congressional committee on a key question: Are there still documents from the Trump White House that are unaccounted for?

National Archives officials last month told staff for House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) that they aren’t sure whether all presidential records from the Trump administration are in its custody, as federal law dictates, prompting the committee to set Sept. 27 as a deadline for an update. The National Archives declined to comment.

The whereabouts of those White House documents—both presidential records from everyday business and classified material—have been in the spotlight since the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. That was the culmination of more than a year of negotiations between the archives and Mr. Trump’s representatives over the custody of White House records, including boxes of papers that were returned to the archives in January and those seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August.

Under federal laws governing what happens to documents after a president leaves office and how classified materials should be handled, the National Archives and Records Administration, as it is officially known, is responsible for the documents’ safekeeping. The agency also manages presidential libraries.

The archives could face an uphill task in ensuring it has all the presidential records it should, based on a review of document handling through President Trump’s four-year term. The records could include such nonclassified documents as speech drafts, menus and programs from White House events, according to former presidential aides.

The National Archives staff typically collects boxes of records throughout the length of an administration. That didn’t happen during the Trump years, said Gary Stern, a career National Archives official, at a January 2021 panel organized by the American Historical Association.

“We really could not start picking up until January, and we couldn’t get it all done even by Jan. 20,” when President Biden was sworn into office, he said. The content of boxes retrieved by the archives since Mr. Trump left office suggests a lack of organization that could complicate the process of accounting for all the papers: An inventory given by the FBI after the Aug. 8 search detailed boxes containing a mix of documents, including press clippings and photographs as well as classified documents.

The archives might have a greater advantage in accounting for classified material because of a meticulous record-keeping system that has traditionally been in place at the National Security Council.

If followed properly, NSC officials and later the nation’s archivists would have a record of who accessed classified material and an inventory of those documents, in addition to the documents themselves, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen former NSC officials. A document that was sent to the Oval Office but never returned would show up as missing, these former officials said.

“This tracking, indexing system at the NSC was exceedingly unusual within the federal government” and was designed to ensure that documents that went from the NSC to the president were returned to the NSC and cataloged, said Bill Leary, NSC director of records and access management under President George W. Bush and during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Some document-accounting methods have varied slightly through the years. In the Bush administration, papers frequently came back to the NSC via the office of Harriet Miers, White House staff secretary, with a stamp “president has seen” under an arrangement between Ms. Miers and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, while in the Obama administration, papers would be returned with the label “BFO,” for “back from Oval,” according to former officials.

The Trump administration at times broke with such protocols—even inside the NSC—according to interviews, congressional testimony, legal filings and other official reports. That could potentially complicate the National Archives’ efforts to account for all documents today,

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly earlier told The Wall Street Journal that when he got to the White House six months into Mr. Trump’s term, the proper method for handling classified material “was not particularly well observed in a lot of cases.”

New issues around how documents were handled arose after Mr. Trump in a July 2019 phone call urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, one of his expected 2020 presidential rivals, and his son Hunter Biden.

NSC General Counsel John Eisenberg “gave the go-ahead” to put a summary of that call on a classified server, according to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an NSC official who testified when the Democratic-led House opened impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump over the call. Mr. Trump was impeached in the House and acquitted in the Senate.

The decision to store the record of that call with classified materials was recommended by Mr. Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis, according to the witness testimony. A different witness in the impeachment proceedings, NSC official Timothy Morrison, testified that Mr. Eisenberg indicated he wanted to restrict access to the transcript but that his direction was mistakenly interpreted to mean placing the call record on a secure server typically reserved for national-security secrets.

John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national-security adviser, wrote in a memoir about his White House experiences that “until the Ukraine controversy broke, I was not aware we ever deviated” from their agreed-upon records policy, “including ‘storage’ procedures.”

Through representatives, Messrs. Eisenberg and Ellis didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The following year, when Mr. Bolton sought clearance from the White House to publish his book because of the sensitive nature of some material, new problems flared. The NSC’s senior director for records access and information-security management, Ellen Knight, worked with Mr. Bolton to clear his book for publication.

Then Messrs. Eisenberg and Ellis tried to get her to reverse her opinion. In a meeting with NSC lawyers and a White House lawyer, Ms. Knight was asked to acknowledge “that the classified nature of information is simply in the eye of the beholder,” according to a letter written by Ms. Knight’s lawyer to parties involved in a lawsuit over Mr. Bolton’s book at the time. Ms. Knight disputed that characterization and soon lost her job, her lawyer said in the letter.

The NSC hadn’t filled her position on a permanent basis by the time of the presidential transition, when White House officials were scrambling to leave after Mr. Trump spent months fighting to overturn his 2020 election loss.

In January 2021, Mr. Ellis was accused by the National Security Agency, part of the Department of Defense, of mishandling classified records during his final days at the NSC. According to a Pentagon inspector general’s report, the NSA learned that Mr. Ellis had either created or directed the copying of NSA notebooks of sensitive, classified documents; that he gave one such  notebook to an unauthorized State Department official; and he refused to return to the NSA a document relating to “some of the most sensitive information that NSA possesses.”

In a memo to the NSA’s chief, Mr. Ellis said that no one had provided any evidence that he engaged in any inappropriate behavior, according to the report. He resigned in April 2021. The NSA’s inspector general recommended that the NSA reopen its investigation into the alleged security breaches.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.