Fifteen Democratic state attorneys general on Wednesday said in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone that President Trump has an obligation to comply with federal laws on record-keeping even in the waning weeks of his presidency.
In a three-page letter issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), the group of Democratic attorneys general demanded that Cipollone ensure that “all White House personnel understand and comply with their record preservation obligations” under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). The attorneys general requested confirmation of such compliance prior to January 20, 2021, when President-elect Joe Biden will officially take office.
James’ letter was joined by attorneys general in the District of Columbia and the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.
Following the Watergate scandal, the PRA was enacted in order to require that presidential administrations retain all “documentary material” of “the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the President’s constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties.”
The letter stressed that the President must “take all such steps as may be necessary” to assure that material is “adequately documented” as well as “preserved and maintained.”
The attorneys general pointed out that the President may only dispose of Presidential records if they “no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value,” and the Archivist of the United States approves of the proposed disposal in writing.
The attorneys general noted that the White House Counsel’s Office hadn’t issued a memorandum reiterating staffers’ obligations under the PRA since September 2017, which said that “willful destruction or concealment of federal records is a federal crime punishable by fines and imprisonment.”
The attorneys general took aim at Trump for having shown an “utter disregard for his recordkeeping obligations” under the PRA throughout his presidency. They cited the sitting President’s history of ripping up notes at the close of meetings, going on a Twitter spree only to delete his tweets and his “obstruction of notetaking.”
The attorneys general also took issue with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner communicating with other administration officials as well as foreign officials through WhatsApp, a popular mobile messaging service owned by Facebook. They also cited the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump having used a “personal email account to send emails concerning White House business.”
Earlier this year, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued Trump for failing to retain proper records of his meetings with the leaders of foreign nations under the PRA. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected the complaint by arguing that the court didn’t have the authority to enforce executive branch record-keeping compliance. However, Berman warned against interpreting the ruling as justification that the Trump administration complied with the law.
Read the letter below: