The presidency of Donald Trump was marked by numerous records management challenges. This cast a spotlight on the importance of effective information handling and preservation within government operations. Throughout his tenure, instances emerged where lapses in records management had significant implications on transparency, accountability, and historical documentation. Post his tenure, the Trump Administration still had a lot to answer for.
Disputed Email Practices
Email communication has long been a cornerstone of modern governance and possibly one of the hardest items to control. Most try and manage their inbox, but it’s really the sent items that are the key records. During Trump’s administration, concerns arose regarding the use of private email accounts for official business. This is something that has happened in the UK as well. Questions were raised about compliance with records management regulations. Private email accounts might not be subject to the same archiving and retention policies as official government servers.
The volume of digital documents, emails, and electronic communications generated during any presidential administration is a challenge for effective archiving. Ensuring that electronic documents are properly organised, stored, and accessible is crucial for maintaining a comprehensive historical record.
The UK Gov released new guidance this year relating to the use of Non-Corporate Corporate Communication Channels. This details the use of private email, WhatsApp, social media etc. Note though that it is only guidance and is not a policy.
Social Media Communications
Trump’s use of social media, particularly Twitter (now, X), to communicate official statements and policies further underscored records management challenges. Social media platforms are powerful tools for direct communication. However, they present difficulties in terms of archiving and preserving official communications for historical accuracy and transparency. This also led to debates about whether social media posts should be considered official government records.
There were instances during the Trump administration where records were allegedly deleted or withheld. This raised concerns about compliance with records management regulations. Reports of officials using private email accounts for government business and potentially deleting records led to questions about transparency and accountability.
During and after Trump’s tenure, concerns arose about the preservation of official social media accounts and the digital records associated with them. This includes tweets, posts, and other digital communications that may hold significant historical and legal importance.
Trump was later booted from Twitter for his “continued spreading of lies, falsehoods and misleading claims.” This included incendiary tweets during the violent and deadly insurrection at the Capitol that he inspired and was carried out by his supporters. Elon Musk the new owner of Twitter (X) later reinstated his access but Trump never returned as he had his own social media site (Truth Social) by then. There has only been 1 tweet from his old account and that was in recent days simply sharing his mugshot.
The Missing Notes
In various instances, official meetings and conversations involving President Trump were found to lack comprehensive notes or recordings. This created a void in the historical record and hindered the ability to verify statements and actions accurately. Missing, inaccurate or incomplete records can impact historical analysis and understanding, potentially leading to misinterpretations of decisions and policies made during the administration.
The Presidential Records Act 1978 mandates the preservation of official records generated during a president’s tenure. However, during the Trump administration, there were concerns about the potential mishandling or deletion of electronic records, particularly given the pace of communication via digital platforms. Properly archiving and managing these records is vital for future administrations, researchers, and historians.
Transparency and Accountability
Lapses in records management can erode transparency and accountability within government operations. Issues such as the delayed release of transcripts from calls with foreign leaders and the limited accessibility of certain documents challenged the public’s right to information. A robust records management framework is essential for maintaining trust between the general population and their elected representatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted remote work arrangements for many government employees. While remote work is essential for safety, it can complicate records management efforts. Ensuring that remote workers have the tools and guidelines to manage records effectively can help maintain consistency in records management practices. This leads to consideration of whether records/documents should have left the white house or not. Records management applies at every level regardless of who you are and this includes the President. It seems the White House are still very paper-dependent which meant the return and cataloguing of records became extremely complicated. If you’re in an organisation who are very paper-dependent, if you need to take something home, the safest option is scanning it onto your laptop.
Post-Trump Tenure – The Transition
Since the conclusion of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2021, several records management issues have come to light, highlighting the ongoing challenges associated with maintaining accurate and accessible government records. These issues continue to emphasise the importance of effective records management practices in preserving transparency, accountability, and historical accuracy in government operations.
The transition of records from one administration to the next is a crucial aspect of records management. Following Trump’s presidency, reports emerged suggesting that there were delays and challenges in the transfer of records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Delays in the transfer of records can hinder the ability of the incoming administration to effectively govern and make informed policy decisions. As such three possible crimes were being investigated:
- Willful retention of National Defence information
- Obstruction of federal investigation
- Concealment or removal of government records
Trump Timeline 2022
An investigation was started to understand whether Trump had failed to return all the records from his tenure. The following timeline gives you an idea of the multitude of records that were not returned and the key milestones here:
January 2022 – The National Archives retrieves 15 boxes of White House records from Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s main residence). It advises some of the documents it received at the end of the Trump administration had been torn up
9th February 2022 – The National Archives asks the Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate.
16th May 2022 – FBI agents conduct a preliminary review of the 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January, identifying 184 documents with classified markings.
3rd June 2022 – A senior DoJ official and FBI agents travel to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve a folder containing 38 more classified documents. They also tour a storage room but aren’t allowed to look in boxes.
8th June 2022 – Federal investigators write to a Trump aide to ask that a stronger lock be used to secure the room storing the items which was supposedly carried out quickly
22nd June 2022 – The Trump Organisation receives a DoJ summons for CCTV footage from Mar-a-Lago
8th August 2022 – Dozens of agents search Mar-a-Lago, seizing at least 33 boxes.
12th August 2022 – Warrant released. The inventory of the boxes contained 18 documents labelled top secret, 54 marked as secret and 21 deemed confidential. Agents also found 90 empty folders marked classified or for return to government staff. Trump advised they had been declassified but this has yet to be confirmed.
20th November 2022: A counsel is selected to preside over criminal matters relating to Trump, including the classified documents investigation.
7th December 2022: Trump attorneys discover more documents with classified markings and turn them over to the Justice Department.
Trump Timeline 2023
January to May 2023 – Multiple efforts to block access to the records / have new special counsel / changing of legal team etc – rather boring.
8th June 2023: Trump writes on social media that the Biden administration has informed his attorneys that he has been indicted under the Espionage Act 1917 and that he has been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on June 13.
13th June 2023: Trump pleads not guilty to the charges over potential mishandling of classified documents. He has been charged with 37 counts, including 31 counts of willful retention of national defence information. It’s the first time in American history that a former president has faced federal charges.
28th July 2023: A superseding indictment is presented and Trump’s case is expanded and he faces a further 3 counts with regard to unauthorised retention of classified documents. making significant new allegations that Trump and his employees attempted to delete Mar-a-Lago security footage sought by the grand jury investigating the mishandling of the government records.
The trial – slated to take place in Florida- is scheduled to start in late May 2024. Therefore any further progress is likely to be stunted from here in.
The records management challenges witnessed during and after Donald Trump’s presidency highlight the critical importance of efficient and effective information handling within government contexts. These challenges encompassed a wide range of areas, from email practices and social media communication to preserving comprehensive records of official meetings and decisions. Moreover, the cataloguing of records and their whereabouts. Addressing these issues requires a commitment to transparency, adherence to records management regulations, and the implementation of robust archiving practices that ensure historical accuracy and accountability for future generations. As society evolves in the digital age, maintaining high standards of records management remains a fundamental pillar of responsible governance.
Despite this (rather lengthy) blog post, Trump is still able to run for office.The Constitution requires only three things of candidates: They must be a natural born citizen, at least 35 years old and a resident of the US for at least 14 years. The impeachment clause doesn’t count because the Senate acquitted him both times. I anticipate more from this once if it goes to court but you have to draw a line somewhere. However, It is unlikely the prosecution will proceed if Trump wins the 2024 presidential election. So watch this space, I may need to do a follow-up.
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