WASHINGTON (AP) Donald Trump isnt the first ever to face criticism for flouting rules and traditions round the safeguarding of sensitive government records, but national security experts say recent revelations indicate an unprecedented disregard of post-presidency norms established following the Watergate era.
Document dramas have cropped up every once in awhile through the years.
Democrat Lyndon B. Johnsons national security adviser held onto explosive records for a long time before turning them to the Johnson presidential library. The records showed that the campaign of his successor, Richard Nixon, was secretly communicating in the ultimate days of the 1968 presidential race with the South Vietnamese government in order to delay the opening of peace foretells end the Vietnam War.
A secretary in Ronald Reagans administration, Fawn Hall, testified that she altered and helped shred documents linked to the Iran-Contra affair to safeguard Oliver North, her boss at the White House National Security Council.
Barack Obamas CIA director, David Petraeus, was forced to resign and pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for sharing classified material with a biographer with whom he was having an affair. Hillary Clinton, while Obamas secretary of state, faced FBI scrutiny that extended into her 2016 presidential campaign against Trump on her behalf handling of highly classified material in an exclusive email account. The FBI director recommended no criminal charges but criticized Clinton on her behalf extremely careless behavior.
As additional information emerge from last months FBI search of Trumps Florida home, the Justice Department has painted a portrait of an indifference for the guidelines on a scale that some thought inconceivable after establishment of the Presidential Records Act in 1978.
I cannot think about a historical precedent where there is even the suspicion a president or perhaps a high-ranking officer in the administration, apart from the Nixon administration, purposely and consciously as well as accidentally removing this type of sizable level of papers, said Richard Immerman, who served as assistant deputy director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009.
FBI agents who searched Trumps Mar-a-Lago resort on Aug. 8 found a lot more than 100 documents with classification markings, including 18 marked ” inside info “, 54 secret and 31 confidential, in accordance with court filings. The FBI also identified 184 documents marked as classified in 15 boxes recovered by the National Archives in January, also it received additional classified documents throughout a June stop by at Mar-a-Lago. Yet another 10,000 other government records without classification markings were also found.
Which could violate the Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and should be preserved.
That law was enacted after Nixon resigned from office amid the Watergate scandal and sought to destroy thousands of hours of secretly recorded White House tapes. It established government ownership of presidential records you start with Ronald Reagan.
The act specifies that soon after a president leaves office, the National Archives and Records Administration takes legal and physical custody of the outgoing administrations records and begins to utilize the incoming White House staff on appropriate records management.
Based on the National Archives, records which have no administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value could be removed before acquiring the archivists written permission.
Documents have already been recovered from Trumps bedroom, closet, bathroom and storage areas at his Florida resort, which doubles as his home. In June, when Justice Department officials met a Trump lawyer to retrieve records in reaction to a subpoena, the lawyer handed them documents in a Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape.
Trump has claimed he declassified all of the documents in his possession and have been employed in earnest with department officials on returning documents if they conducted the Mar-a-Lago search. Through the 2016 campaign, Trump asserted that Clintons usage of her private email server for sensitive STATE DEPT. material was disqualifying on her behalf candidacy; chants from his supporters to lock her up became a mainstay at his political rallies.
James Trusty, an attorney for Trump in the records matter, said on Fox News that Trumps possession of the sensitive government material was equal to hanging to an overdue library book.
But Trumps former attorney general, Bill Barr, said in another Fox News interview he was skeptical of Trumps declare that he declassified everything. People say this (raid) was unprecedented — well, its also unprecedented for a president to take all of this classified information and put them in a country club, OK, Barr said.
Trumps attitude about White House records isn’t so surprising for some who worked for him.
Among Trumps national security advisers, John Bolton, said briefers quickly learned that Trump often tried to hold onto sensitive documents, plus they took making sure documents didnt go missing. Classified information was tweeted, distributed to reporters and adversaries even within a White House complex bathroom.
That approach has gone out of step with how modern-day presidents have operated.
Obama, while writing his White House memoir after leaving office, had paper records he found in his research sent to him in locked bags from the secure National Archives storage facility and returned them in similar fashion.
Dwight Eisenhower, who left office years prior to the Presidential Records Act was passed, kept official records secure at Fort Ritchie, Maryland, despite the fact that there is no requirement of him to take action.
Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel through the final years of the National government, recalled that Fred Fielding, who held exactly the same position in the George W. Bush administration, advised him as he started his new job to hammer home to staff certain requirements occur the records act.
Similarly, Trumps White House counsel, Donald McGahn, sent a staff-wide memo in the initial weeks of the administration underscoring that presidential records will be the property of america.
Its not just a hard concept that documents prepared during our presidential administration aren’t your individual property or the presidents personal properties, Eggleston said.
Presidents aren’t necessary to obtain security clearances to gain access to intelligence or formally instructed on the responsibilities to guard secrets if they leave office, said Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA officer and senior director of the White House Situation Room.
But guidelines issued by any office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence agencies, require that any sensitive compartmented information – a few of the highest-value intelligence the U.S. possesses – be looked at only in secure rooms referred to as SCIFs.
The FBI, in a court filing, earlier this week included a photo of a few of the records that agents discovered in the search of Trumps estate. The photo showed cover sheets on at the very least five sets of papers which are marked TOP SECRET/SCI, a mention of sensitive compartmented information, in addition to a cover sheet labeled SECRET/SCI possesses sensitive compartmented information. The FBI also found a large number of empty folders marked classified, with nothing inside no explanation of what may have been there.
A president will keep reports presented throughout a briefing for later review. And presidents – or nominees for president during an election year – arent always briefed in a SCIF, based on their schedules and locations, Pfeiffer said.
Theres no intelligence community directive that says how presidents should or shouldnt be briefed on the materials, said Pfeiffer, now director of the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. Weve never really had to be worried about it before.
People round the president with usage of intelligence are trained on intelligence rules on handling classified information and necessary to follow them. But imposing restrictions on the president will be problematic for intelligence agencies, Pfeiffer said, because by virtue to be the executive of the executive branch, he sets all of the rules pertaining to secrecy and classification.
President Joe Biden told reporters recently he often reads his ” inside info ” Presidential Daily Briefing at his home in Delaware, where he frequently spends his weekends and holidays. But Biden said he takes precautions to be sure the document stays secure.
I’ve in my own home a cabined-off space that’s completely secure, Biden said.
He added: I read it. I lock it right back up and present it to the military.
Associated Press reporter Nomaan Merchant contributed to the report.
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