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 complied.

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 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.

Updates

Seeking Records from Seema Verma’s Lost Cell Phone

May 25, 2021
The top Trump official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says she lost her phone in the final days of the administration. American Oversight is seeking to ensure government records don’t disappear with it.

Open Questions About President Trump’s Abuses of Office

December 28, 2020
Trump’s time as president was defined by multiple financial conflicts of interest and unprecedented abuses of power that touched nearly every aspect of public life — and there’s still a lot the American public needs to know.

Investigations Update: Political Interference in Coronavirus Data, Texas Election Lawsuit, and State Officials’ Voter-Fraud Allegations

December 15, 2020
See the latest in our investigation into attempts to overturn election results and efforts to meddle with pandemic-related scientific work.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccine Distribution Begins, CDC Record Preservation, and PPP Failures

December 14, 2020
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

The CDC Director Reportedly Ordered Staff to Delete Email from Trump Political Appointee — We’re Demanding the Administration Preserve Those Records

December 11, 2020
We’re calling on the CDC and HHS to ensure the email is recovered, as required by federal law.

Investigations Update: Preservation of White House Communications, Federally Deputized Portland Police, Trump Aide Banned from DOJ

December 8, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into the Trump administration’s compliance with document preservation laws, law enforcement’s response to social unrest, and Covid-19 precautions at the state level.

American Oversight Launches Document Preservation Initiative

November 10, 2020
U.S. law requires the preservation of White House and federal agency records. A new American Oversight initiative will work to ensure the Trump administration complies.

Open Questions About Trump Administration Figures

October 27, 2020
From worrisome conflicts of interest to misconduct and undue influence there is still a lot that Americans don’t know about White House and cabinet officials.

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

October 21, 2020
American Oversight's litigation recently produced nearly 400 pages of Pompeo's emails from his time as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

News Roundup: One Firing, Multiple Scandals

May 22, 2020
Trump's firing of the State Department's inspector general has unearthed a series of concerning stories about the conduct of the very person who pressed for the firing — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

New Lawsuit Seeks Records of Mike Pompeo’s Outside Political Influences

July 23, 2019
American Oversight has filed a lawsuit as part of its investigation into whether the secretary of state has been subject to inappropriate political influences during his tenure in the Trump administration.

News Roundup: Above the Law

May 3, 2019
From his mixing of business with public service to his resistance to congressional investigations, Trump and his administration have been operating as if they are above the law.

American Oversight Expands Its Investigation of Administration’s Improper Email Use

November 29, 2018
After last week’s Washington Post report that Ivanka Trump used a personal email account for official business on hundreds of occasions, American Oversight is continuing its investigation not just into the extent to which the president’s daughter and senior adviser violated records rules, but also into whether such risky actions extended to other officials within Trump’s cabinet.
Show all updates

Related Documents

February 16, 2021

HHS Email Concerning Claims that an Agency Appointee Directed CDC to Alter Scientific Reports

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Record
January 27, 2021

CIA Records of Pompeo’s External Communications

Central Intelligence Agency
Agency Record
December 11, 2020

Letter to DOJ Concerning CDC Compliance with Records Preservation Law and Lawsuit on FOIA Request Violations

Department of Justice
December 11, 2020

Letter Demanding CDC Compliance with Records Preservation Law

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Archives and Records Administration
December 11, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Email Deleted at Direction of Director Redfield

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
December 11, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Directives Regarding Destruction of Agency Records

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
December 11, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Sent Emails and Text Messages from Senior Officials

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to DOD Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to State Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

Department of State
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to HHS Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to CMS Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to FDA Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

HHS - Food and Drug Administration
FOIA Request
December 1, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Communications of Key Agency Officials with White House

HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
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 30, 2020

Rejection from State Regarding Communications of Key Officials Under Sec. Pompeo’s Leadership

Department of State
Agency Reply
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
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