National Archives asks former presidents to double check for unauthorised records

Classified documents controversy now envelops two presidents and one vice president

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Thursday 26 January 2023 19:57 GMT
Mike Pence: Classified documents found at home of former US vice president

The National Archives and Records Administration has asked representatives of former presidents and vice presidents dating back to the Reagan administration to search their personal papers and collections for any records that should have been deposited with the Archives under the Presidential Records Act.

In a letter to the designated representatives for presidents and vice presidents from six administrations that have held office since the enactment of the Presidential Records Act, Nara said the needs to comply with that Watergate-era law doesn’t end when a president leaves the White House.

“The responsibility to comply with the PRA does not diminish after the end of an administration. Therefore, we request that you conduct an assessment of any materials held outside of NARA that relate to the Administration for which you serve as a designated representative under the PRA, to determine whether bodies of materials previously assumed to be personal in nature might inadvertently contain Presidential or Vice Presidential records subject to the PRA, whether classified or unclassified,” the letter said.

Former US presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton at an event in Jersey City in 2017

The letter, which was first reported on by CNN, was sent to former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan, and former Vice Presidents Mike Pence, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle. The request to check for records that may have been inadvertently withheld from the Archives extends to all Presidential Records Act material, not just classified documents.

It also noted that recent events have brought focus on classified information in the possession of former presidents and vice presidents, and stressed that “all Presidential records of every administration from Reagan onward” are required to be held in the custody of the Archives, “regardless of classification status”.

Representatives for Mr Obama, Mr Clinton, and Mr Gore have told The Independent that no classified records are in the possession of the former officeholders.

The oldest living former president, Jimmy Carter, was not required to deposit his records with the Archives because he was not bound by the Presidential Records Act, though he was the chief executive who signed it into law.

The request for ex-presidents and former vice presidents to search their own records for material that belongs in the Archives comes just days after Mr Pence’s ex-White House lawyer and current representative to Nara, Greg Jacob, sent a 22 January letter to the agency to inform officials that Mr Pence’s personal lawyer had “facilitated” the transfer of documents with classification markings to FBI agents on 19 January, three days after Mr Pence discovered the documents and secured them in a safe at his home.

Mr Pence, Mr Biden, and Mr Trump are each known to have had classified materials that were meant to be deposited with the Archives at their private residences.

Currently, the 45th and 46th presidents’ possession of the sensitive papers is being probed by a pair of special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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