American Oversight Launches Document Preservation Initiative

American Oversight is announcing a document preservation initiative to ensure the Trump administration complies with federal public record laws. We’ve previously obtained more than 800,000 pages of documents from the Trump administration through public records requests and lawsuits, and are prepared to litigate under the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Records Act to ensure that outgoing Trump administration officials do not remove or destroy documents. 

American Oversight has active FOIA requests or litigation pending at more than three dozen agencies, seeking records including senior officials’ calendar entries, email communications, and text messages on topics ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic response to the spending of taxpayer dollars at Trump-owned properties. 

The Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act require federal agencies and the White House to preserve substantive documents. These government records are key building blocks in our historical record that provide transparency about government actions and power oversight investigations into misconduct or abuse. Such documents are also important for a smooth transition of power: Knowing past policy decisions helps officials understand ongoing government operations.

On Tuesday, the chairs of multiple committees in the House of Representatives wrote to the White House and to more than 50 federal agencies, directing them to comply with federal recordkeeping laws.

“The Trump administration has spent four years fighting tooth and nail to block any public scrutiny of its actions, and Congress is absolutely right to be on guard for any potential document destruction by outgoing Trump appointees,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “The public deserves the full truth about this administration’s many misdeeds, from Ukraine to the mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, and that starts by making sure the evidence is preserved.”

Destroying federal records is illegal, but many observers are concerned about the Trump administration’s compliance with these laws. 

American Oversight’s efforts have already uncovered a number of instances in which senior officials’ used personal email accounts for conducting government work, raising questions about the administration’s commitment to record preservation. This fall, American Oversight reported on nearly 400 pages of communications from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tenure as head of the Central Intelligence Agency that showed his repeated use of his personal email for official business while CIA director. In a letter sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the CIA, and the State Department on Oct. 22, American Oversight urged the agencies to quickly move to preserve any records that may not have already been turned over. 

NARA informed us on Nov. 4 that it had requested the CIA to fully account for Pompeo’s use of private email and to ensure that all records were properly preserved in compliance with the law. 

But Pompeo is not alone. News reports and documents obtained by American Oversight have shown key officials engaging in similar behavior, from other cabinet members like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former VA Secretary David Shulkin to multiple senior political appointees.

Trump family members and White House aides Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump also extensively used a personal email domain to conduct government business, becoming the subject of an internal White House probe. Additionally, Kushner has reportedly used WhatsApp, a mobile app with security features that could help evade compliance with record preservation, for government business. American Oversight has filed multiple open records requests related to his use of the app. 

Some senior officials, such as Stephen Miller, reportedly rely on telephone conversations to avoid creating document trails. And Trump himself has already shown flagrant disrespect for record preservation laws through his frequent attempts to destroy records by tearing them up — leading to taxpayer funds paying staffers to painstakingly tape documents back together for the National Archives. 

The preservation of the Trump administration’s records is essential not just for historical reasons, but also to ensure long-term accountability. Follow our investigation into the administration’s compliance with document preservation laws here.

Related Blog Posts

October 29, 2020

Open Questions About Trump Administration Policies

Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Environmental Protection Agency, White House
October 24, 2020

Georgia Officials Confirm: Voting by Mail Is Secure, Accurate

Georgia - Glynn County, Georgia - Hall County, Georgia Secretary of State
October 21, 2020

Pompeo’s Use of Personal Email While CIA Director Highlights State Department’s Failure to Produce His Emails as Secretary

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State
October 6, 2020

Investigations Update: The White House Outbreak, the Administration’s Naturalization Policy, and Texas’ Ballot Drop Boxes

Arizona Secretary of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Legal Counsel, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, Iowa Secretary of State, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, New Mexico Secretary of State, North Carolina, Texas, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, United States Postal Service, White House - Office of Management and Budget
September 23, 2020

Investigations Update: New Kentucky Voter Fraud Task Force Lawsuit, and Our Supreme Court Short List Investigation

Commerce - International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, Florida, Florida Office of the Governor, Florida Supreme Court, Georgia, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia - State Records Center, Georgia Attorney General, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, United States Postal Service
September 17, 2020

News Roundup: Behind the Scenes at the Postal Service

Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Postal Service
September 17, 2020

Documents Show DeJoy Hired Staff with Ties to His Businesses

United States Postal Service
September 15, 2020

Investigations Update: DeJoy’s Calendars, Barr’s False Voting Fraud Story, and Delays in Prescription Deliveries

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Veterans Affairs, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, United States Postal Service, VA - Veterans Health Administration
September 15, 2020

American Oversight Sues USPS for Postmaster General DeJoy’s Calendars

United States Postal Service
September 10, 2020

News Roundup: What Trump Knew, and What We Know

Congress, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, State Office of the Inspector General, United States Postal Service, VA - Veterans Health Administration, White House
September 9, 2020

Investigations Update: Pompeo’s RNC Speech, DeJoy’s Calendars, and Kentucky’s Voter Fraud Task Force

Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DOD - Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, DOD - Defense Logistics Agency, DOI - National Park Service, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS Office of the Inspector General, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, Kentucky State Board of Elections, Small Business Administration, U.S. Office of Special Counsel, United States Postal Service, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
September 1, 2020

Investigations Update: Operation Legend, Crossfire Hurricane, and the Rush for a Coronavirus Vaccine

Arizona Department of Health Services, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - National Security Division, Federal Communications Commission, Georgia - Sumter County, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Illinois - Chicago Mayor's Office, Illinois - Chicago Police Department, Illinois - Office of the Governor, Missouri - Kansas City Mayor's Office, Missouri - Office of the Governor, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, New Mexico - Albuquerque Mayor's Office, New Mexico - Albuquerque Police Department, New Mexico Office of the Governor, North Carolina, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Ohio - City of Cleveland Mayor's Office, Ohio - Cleveland Division of Police, Ohio Office of the Governor, United States Postal Service, USDA - Food Safety and Inspection Service, White House, Wisconsin - Milwaukee County, Wisconsin - Milwaukee Mayor's Office, Wisconsin - Milwaukee Police Department, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Office of the Governor
August 10, 2020

Barr Continues to Comment on Ongoing Durham Investigation — Even as Justice Dept. Withholds Documents About It from Public

Department of Justice
July 17, 2020

News Roundup: Transparency in Hospital Data, and Barr’s Meetings with Giuliani and Gowdy

Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, White House - Office of Management and Budget
June 23, 2020

The Federal Government’s Latest Attempt to Delay the Release of Coronavirus Documents

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration
June 19, 2020

Barr’s Policing Commission Undermines Community Trust and Violates Federal Law

Department of Justice
June 19, 2020

News Roundup: The Administration’s Failure to Confront Two National Crises

Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DOJ - Civil Division, DOJ - Civil Rights Division, DOT Office of Inspector General, Florida - Jacksonville Mayor’s Office, Florida Department of Health, Florida Office of the Governor, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Credit Union Administration, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Small Business Administration, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Treasury - Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, United States Postal Service, White House - Office of Science and Technology Policy, Wisconsin Department of Health Services
June 12, 2020

News Roundup: Georgia’s Disastrous Election, the Administration’s Alarming Protest Response, and Barr’s Troubling Tenure

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - Office of Intelligence and Analysis, DHS - Transportation Security Administration, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Secret Service, District of Columbia Mayor's Office, District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, DOD - Defense Intelligence Agency, DOD - Department of the Air Force, DOD - National Guard Bureau, DOI - National Park Service, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Civil Division, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - Justice Management Division, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida - Miami-Dade County, Florida Department of State, Maryland - Baltimore Mayor's Office, Nevada Secretary of State, New Jersey Department of Human Services, New York City Department for the Aging, New York City Office of the Mayor, New York Police Department, New York State Department of Health, New York State Office for the Aging, North Carolina, North Carolina House of Representatives, North Carolina Senate, Ohio House of Representatives, Ohio Secretary of State, Ohio Senate, State Office of the Inspector General, Texas Secretary of State, United States Postal Service, White House - Office of Management and Budget, Wisconsin Elections Commission
June 11, 2020

In the Documents: Florida Health Department Efforts to Suppress Release of Coronavirus Records

Florida - Miami-Dade County
June 1, 2020

Tips for Filing Public Records Requests in Your State or City

May 15, 2020

News Roundup: The Subversion of Justice at the Justice Department

Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Office of Legal Counsel, DOT - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Department of Corrections, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, Louisiana - New Orleans Mayor's Office, Louisiana Department of Health, Louisiana Office of the Governor, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City Office of the Mayor, New York Office of the Governor, New York State Department of Health, Small Business Administration, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, United States Postal Service, White House - Office of Management and Budget, Wisconsin Elections Commission
April 21, 2020

The Administration’s Attempts to Stonewall Investigations of Trump FBI Headquarters Interference Stumble in Court

Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, General Services Administration, White House - Office of Management and Budget
March 28, 2020

A Pandemic Is No Time for Secrecy

March 27, 2020

News Roundup: Transparency and Oversight Are More Important Than Ever

Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - National Security Division, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Election Commission, Florida Attorney General, Florida Department of State, Florida Office of the Governor, General Services Administration, Georgia - Bartow County, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
March 24, 2020

We Cannot Let Trump Use a National Emergency to Get Rich and Ignore the Constitution

Congress, White House
March 20, 2020

News Roundup: Testing, Messaging and Missed Chances

Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Communications Commission, Florida Attorney General, Georgia Attorney General, Nevada Department of Administration, Texas - Harris County, Texas Attorney General, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
March 19, 2020

Three Years of American Oversight

March 17, 2020

The Increase in FOIA Lawsuits Isn’t the Problem — It’s Agencies Underfunding Their Transparency Obligations

Department of Justice
March 13, 2020

News Roundup: Continuing Our Investigation of Coronavirus Response

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve, Georgia Secretary of State, Texas Secretary of State, Washington State Department of Health, Wisconsin
March 12, 2020

American Oversight Sues Trump, Kushner for Transparency in Clemency Process

Executive Office of the President, White House
February 21, 2020

When the Government Uses Redactions to Hide Evidence of Wrongdoing

Department of Defense, Department of Justice, White House - Office of Management and Budget
February 20, 2020

Records from Trump’s Presidential Pardons Advisory Committee Must Be Available to the Public

February 7, 2020

News Roundup: Acquittal Isn’t the End

Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of State, Florida Department of State, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Secretary of State, White House - Office of Management and Budget
January 24, 2020

News Roundup: Evidence of Obstruction

Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, DOT - Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Georgia - Clayton County, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, Texas Senate, White House - Office of Management and Budget
January 7, 2020

Did the Trump Administration Abuse the Redactions Process?

Department of Defense, White House - Office of Management and Budget
December 11, 2019

Lawsuit over Administration’s Unlawful Seizure of Trump-Putin Meeting Notes Moves Forward

Department of State, National Archives and Records Administration