Before Trump, 3 Flaps Over Presidential Records

While an FBI raid at the home of a former President was unprecedented, it is not unusual for them to do so now. However, there are no new clashes over compliance to a law called The Presidential Records Act. 

President Jimmy Carter signed the 1978 law in response to the Watergate scandal. In which former President Richard Nixon claimed that all White House records were his, it was a fallout of that scandal. 

The law specifies that “the United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of presidential records.” 

Even before the Presidential Records Act was enacted, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s recordsThey were the first to send their records to the National Archives and Records Administration to be safe kept. Prior to that, presidents had taken their records with them when they left the White House. 

It’s not likely President Donald Trump could be prosecuted for a violation of the Presidential Records Act, presidential historian Craig Shirley told The Daily Signal in an interview.

“Before FDR, every president just took their records home; some kept them around the house, others used [them] for the fireplace,” Shirley said. “Let’s face it, keeping papers that are supposed to be in presidential archives is akin to not returning an overdue library book.” 

Here are three past controversies involving presidents’ records. 

1. Obama Foundation Supplants Archives

In January 2017, President Barack Obama was forced to resign. 30 million pagesMany documents from his administration were moved into a warehouse near Chicago, which was previously the site of a furniture shop. 

The Obama Foundation announced that it would digitize all records before building a $500,000,000 Obama Presidential Center. 

The Obama Foundation, an organization founded by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, would run the Obama Center.

Going backHerbert Hoover said that the National Archives and Records Administration maintained presidential libraries and records. 

Obama’s plan caused some angst among historians, The New York Times reported. 

“The absence of a true Obama presidential library will have the effect of discouraging serious and potentially critical research into the Obama presidency,” David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Obama biographer, toldThe Times

Timothy Naftali, a former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, said the Obama move “opens the door to a truly terrible Trump library.”

The day after the FBI’s raid on his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, Trump publicly brought up the documents held by Obama. 

“President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of these documents related to nuclear? Word is, lots!” Trump said in an Aug.9  post on Truth Social, the social media platform launched early this year created by Trump Media & Technology Group.

This message prompted National Archives to issue an Aug. 12 statement in response to Trump. says:

When President Barack Obama resigned in 2017, the Presidential Records Act (PRA) required that the Presidential Archives and Records Administration (NARA), assume sole legal and physical custody of Obama’s presidential records.

NARA moved approximately 30,000,000 pages of unclassified records into a NARA facility in Chicago, where they are exclusively maintained by NARA. NARA also keeps the classified Obama presidential records at a NARA facility in Washington, D.C. As required by the [Presidential Records Act]Ex-President Obama does not have any control over how NARA stores his presidential records.

2. Clinton’s Presidential Library

Former President Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, delayed the release of tens of thousands of pages of records in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential race in which Hillary Clinton was the expected Democrat frontrunner. 

The Obama White House lawyers helped to delay the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Politico reportedFebruary 2014.

The episode led to Congress’ passing a law that year to curb White House prerogatives on secrecy, which Obama signed. 

The legislation specifically updated Presidential Records Act to say that no one should use personal email to conduct White House business.

3. Bush and Post-9/11 Initiative

In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued a statement in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. executive orderTo restrict access to records pertaining to presidents prior to the Reagan administration. The order included the records of his father, Ronald Reagan’s successor as president.

Reagan’s 12-year protection under the Presidential Records Act, which protects records from being made public after a president leaves office, has expired. 

But Bush’s order resealed the presidential records maintained by the National Archives and required a “demonstrated, specific need” for documents to overcome a past president’s assertion of executive privilege to prevent their release. 

Bush administration claimed that records should remain sealed for national security reasons on a war-footing basis. 

After the American Historical Association sued, part of the younger Bush’s executive order was struck down by a federal court. 

Obama, after promising transparency on the campaign trail, revoked Bush’s executive order shielding records after he took office in January 2009, making most of the records open again and no longer requiring a “demonstrated, specific need.”