The Trump Administration’s Compliance with Document Preservation Laws

U.S. law requires the preservation of most White House and federal agency records. We’re investigating to ensure the Trump administration complies.

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. 

Destruction of these records is illegal, but the lack of an enforcement mechanism — especially when it comes to White House documents — leaves some observers concerned about their preservation. 

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 has done 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.

Related Documents

November 18, 2020

FOIA to NARA Seeking Notifications from White House of Intent to Dispose of Records

National Archives and Records Administration
FOIA Request
November 18, 2020

FOIA to NARA Seeking Communications with White House

National Archives and Records Administration
FOIA Request
October 10, 2020

Letter to NARA, CIA, and State Requesting Recovery of Records Removed from Federal Custody Due to Pompeo Personal Email Use, and Reply from NARA

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State, National Archives and Records Administration
August 20, 2020

CIA Records of Pompeo’s External Communications

Central Intelligence Agency
Agency Record
July 23, 2019

Complaint: American Oversight v. State and CIA – Pompeo Communications

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State
Litigation
May 2, 2019

FOIA to State Seeking Secretary Pompeo’s External Email Communications

Department of State
FOIA Request
May 1, 2019

FOIA to HUD Seeking WhatsApp Messages Between Jared Kushner and HUD Officials

Department of Housing and Urban Development
FOIA Request
May 1, 2019

FOIA to State Seeking WhatsApp Messages Between Jared Kushner and State Officials

Department of State
FOIA Request
May 1, 2019

FOIA to Treasury Seeking WhatsApp Messages Between Jared Kushner and Steven Mnuchin

Department of the Treasury
FOIA Request
February 21, 2019

FOIA to State Seeking Communications Between Pompeo and Senators

Department of State
FOIA Request
February 21, 2019

FOIA to CIA Seeking Communications Between Pompeo and Senators

Central Intelligence Agency
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to CIA Seeking Former Director Pompeo’s Personal Email Communications

Central Intelligence Agency
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to State Seeking Secretary Pompeo’s Personal Email Communications

Department of State
FOIA Request