- Several historians are voicing concern about collecting Trump’s White House records because of the administration’s bad track record of preserving documents.
- The president is also known to have a tendency of ripping up documents before throwing them away, previously forcing aides to spend hours taping documents back together.
- The transfer of documents to the National Archives and Records — which by law has to be completed on January 20 — has already been delayed because of Trump’s long-lasting refusal to concede.
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Historians are growing increasingly concerned about collecting Trump’s White House records because of the administration’s inconsistency with preserving documents and the president’s long-standing habit of ripping up papers, the Associated Press (AP) reported Saturday.
With three days left in office, Trump is expected to handover documents from his administration as is customary for any departing president.
However, according to several reports, this process will be made painstakingly more difficult as Trump’s White House has had a notoriously bad record of preserving documents.
Richard Immerman at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations told AP that “not only has record-keeping not been a priority, but we have multiple examples of it seeking to conceal or destroy that record.”
The president himself is also known for ripping up documents before throwing them in the trash or on the floor – a habit first reported on by Politico in 2018.
Trump’s excessive paper-ripping has forced aides to spend hours taping documents back together before sending them to the National Archives to be properly filed away.
White House records workers and historians now fear they will have to do the same, with one person telling news website Fortune that they are “petrified” by the task they are facing.
“The inattention of this administration to legal requirements [about preserving records] is unprecedented. I’m pessimistic we’ll get many documents,” said Richard Immerman, a Temple University professor and author of several presidential biographies, according to Fortune.
On top of this, the transfer of documents to the National Archives and Records – which by law has to be completed on January 20 – has already been delayed.
This is because, following the 2020 election, Trump refused to concede for many weeks, which prevented records staffers from transferring electronic and paper records to the National Archives in time.
Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House’s residing administration must preserve all memos, letters, emails, and papers that the president touches.
The law states that a president himself cannot destroy these records until he seeks the national archivist’s advice and notifies Congress.
Last month, multiple historian groups sued the White House over fears that the Trump Administration will improperly maintain records.
“I believe we will find that there’s going to be a huge hole in the historical record of this president because I think there’s probably been serious noncompliance of the Presidential Records Act,” said Anne Weismann, one of the lawyers representing the groups, according to AP.
“I don’t think President Trump cares about his record and what it says. I think he probably cares, though, about what it might say about his criminal culpability,” Weismann added.
The Biden administration will be able to request to see Trump’s records. However, the public must wait five years before they are able to access them through freedom of information requests.
Collecting a president’s trail of paper and electronic records is important because it can help the new president to create new policies and prevent mistakes from being repeated.
“Presidential records tell our nation’s story from a unique perspective and are essential to an incoming administration in making informed decisions,” Lee White, director of the National Coalition for History, told AP. “They are equally vital to historians.”
When Former President Barack Obama left the White House, he left about 30 million pages of paper documents and some 250 terabytes of electronic records, including the equivalent of about 1.5 billion pages of emails, AP reported.