VALENTINE: National Archives just seized Kim Jong Un’s love letters to Trump from Mar-A-Lago
“Lock him up!”
That was the reaction of many commentators on social media after The Washington Post revealed today that Donald Trump “improperly removed multiple boxes from the White House” that contained papers and other records from his presidency that should have properly been turned over to the National Archives under the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
Along with the injury to the historical record caused by the former president’s failure to lawfully preserve documents that detail his actions as chief executive, there is the additional insult of the news that the National Archives were forced to retrieve the purloined boxes from Trump’s current residence at Mar-a-Lago, where they were stored in a location subject to climate change-induced storm damage and sub-tropical humidity in the event of a power failure.
Included in the retrieved boxes, according to Trump advisors, were “mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders, and other correspondence,” including the missives sent by North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un that Trump had characterized as “love letters” and the letter left to Trump by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The news — combined with recent reports that White House aides regularly were forced to tape back together for archive official documents that Trump habitually tore apart after glancing at them — raises serious concerns about Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the Presidential Records Act, whose provisions he repeatedly invoked when denouncing Hillary Clinton for the handling of her own official email.
According to the Washington Post:
“Discussions between the Archives and the former president’s lawyers that began last year resulted in the transfer of the records in January, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Another person familiar with the materials said Trump advisers discussed what had to be returned in December.People familiar with the transfer, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal details.”
Despite the clear mandates of the law surrounding presidential archives, there is little enforcement mechanism available under the statute which essentially expects presidential administrations to comply under a type of “gentleman’s agreement.”
“The only way that a president can really be held accountable long term is to preserve a record about who said what, who did what, what policies were encouraged or adopted, and that is such an important part of the long-term scope of accountability — beyond just elections and campaigns,” presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky told The Washinton Post.
One of the primary reasons for the passage of the act mandating document preservation is to ensure that subsequent administrations have an accurate record of the actions of their predecessors, something that is not usually an issue when the outgoing president doesn’t have any embarrassing or potentially criminal secrets to conceal.
“’Things that are national security sensitive or very clearly government documents should have been a part of a first sweep — so the fact that it’s been this long doesn’t reflect well on [Trump],’ said a lawyer who worked in the White House Counsel’s Office under Obama. ‘Why has it taken for a year for these boxes to get there? And are there more boxes?’,” The Washinton Post reports.
As for any attempts to actually follow Trump’s own advice to “lock-up” those who violate the law, don’t expect any satisfaction on that front anytime soon.
According to Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law who was once a counsel to the House of Representatives, the penalty of three years in prison for the willful destruction or concealment of public documents faces a high bar for prosecution.
“You can’t prosecute for just tearing up papers,” Tiefer said of the former president. “You would have to show him being highly selective and have evidence that he wanted to behave unlawfully.”
Perhaps that bar isn’t so high after all.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger, and Ashley Parker at The Washington Post.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.