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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

House Oversight chair pledges to ‘fully investigate’ Trump's record keeping

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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Good morning, Early Birds. The composer John Williams of “Star Wars," “Jaws” and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" fame turns 90 today. Send tips, praise, complaints and secret recordings of White House meetings to Thanks for waking up with us.

🚨: Eric Lander, President Biden’s top science adviser, resigned Monday night after he acknowledged mistreating his subordinates and apologized for demeaning them, a pattern of behavior that put him at odds with one of Biden’s earliest promises — to run an administration marked by respect and professionalism,” our colleague Tyler Pager scooped.

At Mar-a-Lago

House Oversight chair pledges to ‘fully investigate’ Trump's record keeping

Boxgate?: The chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee plans to “fully investigate” the appearance of 15 boxes of documents and other items at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, which should have been turned over as part of the Presidential Records Act.

“The reporting on former President Trump’s apparent removal of presidential records and his failure to turn the records over to the National Archives for over a year is deeply troubling — but not surprising,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) told Jackie in a statement Monday night.

“I sounded the alarm in December 2020 about the danger that the former President and senior Trump Administration officials were not properly transferring presidential records to the National Archives and unfortunately, we now know that was the case. I plan to fully investigate this incident to ensure the law is followed and records from the Trump Administration are with the National Archives where they belong, rather than stashed away in Trump’s golf resorts.”

That's the latest twist in the ongoing story of Trump's apparently sloppy record-keeping (too early to call it Boxgate? Maybe) during his time in the White House. Jackie and our Post colleagues scooped yesterday that Trump handed over 15 boxes to the National Archives and even more presidential records might be coming, according to a statement released by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Archives officials confirmed the transfer, which occurred in mid-January, and told us the records picked up from Mar-a-Lago “should have been transferred to NARA from the White House at the end of the Trump Administration in January 2021.” 

  • “The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said in a statement. “Whether through the creation of adequate and proper documentation, sound records management practices, the preservation of records, or the timely transfer of them to the National Archives at the end of an Administration, there should be no question as to need for both diligence and vigilance. Records matter.”

Trump officials are “continuing to search” for additional records, per the Archives, raising even more questions: What else might Trump have? 

Ray Locker, journalist and author of ‘Nixon’s Gamble':

We've reported so far that the retrieved boxes included mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence. 

More specifically, we know that missives from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as “love letters,” as well as a letter left for his successor by President Barack Obama, were also recovered, according to two people familiar with the contents. While we don't know the impetus for the Archives realizing that certain items were missing, these two letters in particular were extensively reported on in the media. 

Also retrieved, per the New York Times's Mike Schmidt and Maggie Haberman: “…a map Mr. Trump famously drew on with a black Sharpie marker to demonstrate the track of Hurricane Dorian heading toward Alabama in 2019 to back up a declaration he had made on Twitter that contradicted weather forecasts.” 

It's unclear whether the boxes contained gifts that Trump is prohibited from keeping under federal law; any foreign gift over $415 automatically becomes the property of the American people, unless Trump pays the government the appraised price for it. 

It's not completely out of the ordinary for past presidents to return gifts, as our colleague Tom Hamburger pointed out: Bill and Hillary Clinton had to return thousands of dollars worth of gifts they took with them when they left the White House in 2001. Shortly after George W. Bush was sworn in as Bill Clinton’s successor, The Post reported the Clintons left the White House with $28,000 in furnishings that they said were personal gifts but were actually given to the National Park Service for the White House permanent collection. 

There are several factors that may have exacerbated the chaotic transfer supposed to occur during a presidential transition. Two former Trump advisers described a frenzied packing process to our colleague Josh Dawsey in the final days of the administration because Trump did not want to pack or accept defeat.

Our Daily 202 colleague and presidential gift connoisseur Olivier Knox writes: 

"There are few more gloriously ridiculous practices in diplomacy than foreign dignitaries presenting U.S. officials with lavish gifts the recipients can’t keep unless they buy them at a federally assessed fair-market value. Can’t buy off the servants of the people, goes the theory.

Presidents get a break: They can keep foreign offerings, but only to display or store them at their presidential libraries. The George W. Bush library showcases foreign gifts in its collection of 43,000 artifacts, viewable here.

The offerings can carry symbolic significance: In 2016, President Barack Obama and senior aides got the first-ever gifts from Cuba and Iran, while Russia, on the outs with Washington since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, gave nothing.

And they can be turned to political uses. During the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump tried to turn the bizarre but legitimate practice of accepting foreign gifts into a weapon against Hillary Clinton, mischaracterizing the process in an effort to paint her as corrupt.

‘Hillary Clinton accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei when she was secretary of state,’ he thundered. But, again, she couldn’t keep it unless she paid fair-market value, which she didn’t.

The State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol reported the present ended up with the General Services Administration, which stores some foreign gifts.

It did sound nice, though: ‘Mouawad Larme D’Amour 18k gold, sapphire, and diamond earrings, necklace, and bracelet.’ Value? $58,000. From? Brunei’s Queen. Reason for accepting it? The same given for most foreign gifts: ‘Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. government.’"

From the courts

Supreme Court stops lower court order on Alabama redistricting, allows GOP-drawn map

A redistricting setback for Democrats: “A divided Supreme Court on Monday restored an Alabama congressional map that creates only one district favorable to a Black candidate, and put on hold a lower court’s order that said a second district was necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act," our colleague Robert Barnes reports.

Democrats had sued over Alabama's new congressional map and won a short-lived victory in federal court last month.

  • “The court’s ruling was a blow to voting rights advocates and Democrats after a series of redistricting wins over the past several weeks. It means the 2022 congressional elections in Alabama will take place under a map drawn by the state’s Republican leaders.”
  • “But it also signaled that the court’s more conservative majority is suspicious of a Voting Rights Act precedent that Alabama said requires legislatures to prioritize race over traditional redistricting techniques.”

"The majority — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — did not provide a reason for stopping the lower court’s decision, which is common when the Supreme Court considers an emergency petition. But Kavanaugh, joined by Alito, wrote separately to say the changes ordered by the lower court came too close to qualifying and primaries for the fall election and could create “chaos.”

In the agencies

Investigative report details U.S. military’s frustration with White House, diplomats over Afghanistan evacuation

17 days in Kabul: “Senior White House and State Department officials failed to grasp the Taliban’s steady advance on Afghanistan’s capital and resisted efforts by U.S. military leaders to prepare the evacuation of embassy personnel and Afghan allies weeks before Kabul’s fall, placing American troops ordered to carry out the withdrawal in greater danger,” our colleagues Daniel Lamothe and Alex Horton report.

  • “An Army investigative report, numbering 2,000 pages and released to The Post through a Freedom of Information Act request, details the life-and-death decisions made daily by U.S. soldiers and Marines sent to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands converged on the airfield in a frantic bid to escape.”
  • “Beyond the bleak, blunt assessments of top military commanders, the documents contain previously unreported disclosures about the violence American personnel experienced, including one exchange of gunfire that left two Taliban fighters dead after they allegedly menaced a group of U.S. Marines and Afghan civilians, and a separate incident in which U.S. troops killed an elite Afghan strike unit member and wounded six others after they fired on the Americans.”

The Data

A tight job market, visualized: “Over the past year, the U.S. has added nearly 7 million jobs as the economy rebuilds from the early days of the pandemic,” our colleague Abha Bhattarai writes. “The economy is short just 3 million of the 22 million jobs that were lost in early 2020, a faster-paced recovery of jobs than after the Great Recession.”

  • “That’s not to say that the omicron variant didn’t cause considerable turmoil. The number of people who were employed but worked fewer hours or were absent from work due to illness or disruptions in child care reached a pandemic high of 4.6 million, up from 2.6 million in December.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 


“He never stopped ripping things up”

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