Former President Donald Trump improperly kept several boxes of White House records at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — including notes from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that the 45th president once dubbed “love letters” and a missive from former President Barack Obama, the Washington Post reported Monday.
While the documents were handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration last month, the incident raises questions about Trump’s compliance with federal law.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires that presidents preserve memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to their official duties and turn them over to the National Archives upon leaving office.
Trump advisers insist there was no intent to skirt the law and noted that the boxes contained mementos, gifts, and letters from world leaders, the report said.
Among the items was the note Obama left for Trump upon the latter’s inauguration in January 2017 and the correspondence sent by the North Korean despot.
Archives personnel told the Washington Post the incident illustrates the difficulties they’ve had trying to preserve records from Trump’s four years in office. The report noted that while all administrations have recorded some Presidential Records Act violations, the Trump White House is “out of the ordinary,” as one source put it.
“The only way that a president can really be held accountable long-term is to preserve a record about who said what, who did what, what policies were encouraged or adopted, and that is such an important part of the long-term scope of accountability — beyond just elections and campaigns,” presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky told the paper.
However, one archives official said the Presidential Records Act operates on the basis of a “gentlemen’s agreement” and that the agency’s enforcement ability is limited.
In recent weeks, the archives has also turned over damaged Trump White House documents — including some that were ripped up or shredded — to the House select committee as part of its investigation into last year’s Capitol riot, when a mob of Trump supporters tried to force the overturning of the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump sued to keep the documents out of the hands of the House committee, but the Supreme Court last month declined to reverse lower court rulings and block their release.