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Historians Sue to Force Trump Administration to Preserve Records

December 2, 2020by Robert Burnson, Bloomberg News (TNS)
Marine One, carrying President Donald Trump, to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 5, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Trump spent three days hospitalized for coronavirus. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

Historians and watchdog groups sued the Trump administration again over its alleged failure to preserve White House records.

“With President Trump’s term in office soon coming to an end,” the White House’s flouting of record-keeping requirements could deprive historians and the public “of records documenting a critical part of our nation’s history,” the groups said in a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The Presidential Records Act, passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, designates all White House records as public and requires that they be preserved.

“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,'” the historians said in their complaint.

Three of the groups that filed the complaint — the National Security Archive, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations — filed a similar suit in 2019 that was thrown out this year. One group that wasn’t part of the first case is the American Historical Association.

“The Trump administration acts in accordance with statutory requirements,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

The new complaint takes particular aim at the use of WhatsApp and private email accounts by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. WhatsApp sends encrypted text messages that can only be viewed by the sender or receiver.

Kushner claims he takes screenshots of his WhatsApp messages, whose recipients have reportedly included Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and sends them to his White House messaging account, where they are preserved.

But the historians say that isn’t enough. A screenshot doesn’t preserve “a complete copy of the original message” because it does not include metadata, attachments and other digital artifacts “needed to authenticate the message,” according to the suit.

In rejecting the previous suit, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Congress would have to make changes to the Presidential Records Act before the federal courts would be able to compel compliance.

The new case is National Security Archive v. Trump, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.

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(c)2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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