National Archives officials last month retrieved 15 boxes of White House documents that former President Donald Trump had removed to his private residence in Mar-a-Lago, including what Trump has described as “love letters” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, The Washington Post reported Monday.
One source told the Post that there had never before been a similar volume of information retrieved from a former president.
The Presidential Records Act requires that the White House preserve and transfer all written communication related to a president’s official duties — including everything from memos to emails — to the National Archives and Records Administration.
The records whisked away by a former president who brazenly ignored the law “should have been transferred to NARA from the White House at the end of the Trump Administration in January 2021,” NARA said in a statement to the Post.
The boxes of documents removed by Trump included historically important communications, including a letter from former President Barack Obama left for Trump when he took over the Oval Office, and letters from Kim, sources told the Post.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 — instituted after the Watergate scandal, when then-President Richard Nixon blocked access to records — is a vital accountability tool, officials pointed out.
“The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said in the statement to the Post. “There should be no question as to need for both diligence and vigilance. Records matter.”
Trump representatives are reportedly “continuing to search” for other records that may have been spirited away from the White House.
National Archives officials have “struggled to cope” with a former president who has “flouted document retention requirements,” the Post noted.
The startling news that Trump had removed boxes of White House records to Mar-a-Lago follows an earlier Post report that the former president routinely “ripped up” documents while he was in office, from memos to briefings to schedules.
“He didn’t want a record of anything,” a former senior Trump official told the Post. “He never stopped ripping things up.”
Staffers often scooped up the shreds of paper to tape them back together to comply with the law, but the torn documents were also at times added to “burn bags” to be destroyed, trashed or simply lost, sources told the newspaper.
Some documents provided last month to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol had been ripped up — and were taped back together by National Archives personnel, the Post and CNN reported. A statement from the National Archives noted that they had been “torn up by former President Trump.”
Trump has not commented on the boxes removed from Mar-a-Lago.
Read the Washington Post story on Trump’s White House records here.