Historian groups sue White House over fears the Trump administration will destroy records before leaving office

  • Multiple historian groups are suing the White House over fears that the Trump Administration will improperly maintain records before the transition to President-elect Joe Biden, The Washington Post reported Saturday. 
  • "The archive, historians, and CREW are suing to put some backbone in the law and prevent any bonfire of records in the Rose Garden," said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, in a statement announcing the lawsuit. 
  • The lawsuit also targets Trump officials, including the president's son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, for keeping records of communications by taking screenshots, which the groups argue violates the Presidential Records Act.
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Several groups focused on preserving historical records are suing some members of President 's administration, hoping their legal effort will implore the White House to preserve records as power shifts to President-elect Joe Biden.

The groups, which include the American Historical Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the National Security Archive, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, have joined the lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC, calling for the White House to ensure records are properly maintained, The Washington Post first reported Saturday.

The group said in a complaint they feared "there is a growing risk that he will destroy records of his presidency before leaving" due to potential legal battles he faces after he leaves office.

"Presidential records are always at risk because the law that's supposed to protect them is so weak," Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said in a December 1 statement. "The archive, historians, and CREW are suing to put some backbone in the law and prevent any bonfire of records in the Rose Garden."

According to the Post, the law that requires that White House records be preserved — the Presidental Records Act — requires "the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the president's constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties" be maintained.

The law was passed not long after Richard Nixon's turbulent presidency, as a president's papers were previously viewed as private, according to the report. Under the Presidental Records Act, all records are kept private for at least five years, and some can be kept private for longer.

The lawsuit also takes aim at other Trump administration officials, including Trump's son-in-law, senior advisor Jared Kushner, who reportedly has maintained records of conversations on private messaging apps like WhatsApp by taking screenshots, according to a 2017 memo from the White House.

The lawsuit alleges that the practice is in violation of the Presidental Records Act because screenshots do not contain metadata or other attachments, according to the report. In 2014, the law was updated to prohibit communications sent on nonofficial messaging platforms, unless they were forwarded to an official account with 20 days or an official account was copied on the communications, as the Post noted.

Several White House officials have used private email addresses for official business, as the Post reported. These individuals include Kushner, Ivanka Trump, former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, and Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist at the White House, The Post said.

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