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Are Trump presidential records still missing? The answer could take years -- or may never come

Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — As questions continue to swirl about the 11,000 records the FBI recovered during its raid of former President Donald Trump's Florida home, Congress has asked the National Archives to provide it with a preliminary report by Tuesday detailing what Trump presidential records might still be missing.

The National Archives and Records Administration hasn't formally responded. But given the realities of what goes into processing presidential records, and questions about the quality of record-keeping in the Trump White House, experts told the Los Angeles Times the archives might not have a firm grasp of what is missing for years — if ever.

"It is unreasonable to expect that [national] archivists are in a position to say at this time what additional records may be missing," said Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives.

Processing presidential records for eventual public use is a painstaking process that can take decades. At minimum, the National Archives has five years before the public can request access to a president's records, but that doesn't mean all of the material will be ready for public use by then. The Presidential Records Act also lets presidents restrict certain categories of records, such as confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years.

Alongside the Justice Department's criminal investigation, which is focused on whether Trump improperly held onto classified materials, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has been investigating whether Trump mishandled presidential records since news leaked in January that the National Archives had recovered 15 boxes, including some containing classified materials, from his Mar-a-Lago estate and resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Oversight Committee has held no public hearings on the topic, and a spokesperson declined to discuss what investigatory steps it had taken.

 

In last week's letter requesting the National Archives review, the committee's chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., told acting National Archivist Debra Steidel Wall that Trump's repeated refusal before the FBI raid to hand over records, even when subpoenaed, had the committee "concerned that ... Mr. Trump may continue to retain presidential records at non-secure locations, including classified material that could endanger our nation's security and other important records documenting Mr. Trump's activities at the White House."

Maloney cited an Aug. 24 phone call in which she said National Archives staff warned that the agency was not certain whether all presidential records were in its custody.

She also asked the National Archives to seek "a personal certification from Donald Trump that he has surrendered all presidential records that he illegally removed from the White House after leaving office."

A National Archives spokesperson declined to comment for this article. Wall responded Wednesday to a separate request from Republicans on the House Oversight Committee for information about the agency's role in the Mar-a-Lago search by saying, "As a general matter, the Department of Justice has requested that [the National Archives] not share or otherwise disclose to others information related to this matter at this time in order to protect the integrity of DOJ's ongoing work."

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