U.S. laws, including the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act, require federal agencies and the White House to preserve most documents. These documents can provide transparency about government actions, power investigations to hold officials accountable, and be key building blocks in our historical record. This information is also essential to an incoming administration so it can understand ongoing government action and past policy decisions.
News reports and documents obtained by American Oversight have also shown that key officials in the Trump administration repeatedly relied on private communications channels for government business, raising questions about compliance with record preservation laws.
Trump family members and White House aides Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump used a private email domain to conduct some government business, which became the subject of an internal White House probe. In the fall of 2017, Politico reported that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had periodically warned Trump White House lawyers about the need to comply with record preservation laws, and a year later, the Washington Post reported that the extent of Ivanka Trump’s personal email use was wider than previously known.
Kushner also reportedly conducted business over WhatsApp, a mobile app with some encryption security features that could help evade compliance. We have a number of Freedom of Information Act requests related to his use of this service.
Records from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tenure as head of the Central Intelligence Agency that were obtained by American Oversight through FOIA litigation showed he also frequently used a personal email account for work. American Oversight sent a letter on Oct. 22, 2020, to NARA, the CIA, and the State Department, urging them to move quickly to recover any records that may not have been preserved as required by law. On Nov. 4, NARA informed us that it had requested that the CIA provide a report confirming that those emails had been properly preserved.
American Oversight will continue to investigate federal officials’ compliance with document preservation laws. Our hundreds of outstanding FOIA requests and dozens of ongoing lawsuits for government records also help to fuel accountability in this process, and we are prepared to sue under the Federal Records Act to ensure compliance.