The chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee has requested that the National Archives conduct a review into whether presidential records from the Trump White House have all been accounted for after the Justice Department recovered roughly 100 classified documents and 48 empty folders with banners marked “classified” from the former president’s residence last month.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the acting archivist of the United States, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) urged the Archives to “seek a personal certification from Donald Trump that he has surrendered all presidential records that he illegally removed from the White House after leaving office.”
Maloney also called on the agency to “conduct an urgent review of presidential records recovered from the Trump White House to assess whether presidential records remain unaccounted for and potentially in the possession of the former president.”
In the six-page letter, Maloney underscored concerns about the dozens of empty folders for classified materials recovered by the FBI during the Aug. 8 search of the Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club, writing that “sensitive presidential records may remain out of the control and custody of the U.S. Government.”
“Although it is not clear from the inventory list why these folders were empty, the apparent separation of classified material and presidential records from their designated folders raises questions as to how the materials were stored and whether sensitive material may have been lost or obtained by third parties,” Maloney wrote.
The chairwoman requested an initial assessment of findings from the Archives by Sept. 27, and also called on Congress to consider potential legislative revisions to the Presidential Records Act.
The Washington Post previously reported that Archives officials believe there might be more records missing, and Maloney noted in her letter that the committee was recently informed by the Archives “that the agency is not certain whether all presidential records are in its custody.”
Maloney cited Trump’s “pattern of conduct” related to mishandling presidential records and classified materials as reason to believe that Trump “may continue to retain presidential records at nonsecure locations, including classified material that could endanger our nation’s security and other important records documenting Mr. Trump’s activities at the White House.”
But even the Archives may not be able to determine whether Trump has returned all relevant documents to the U.S. government, as there is no main inventory to track every single document that swirled around the White House and the administration, according to people familiar with the White House’s record-keeping processes.
“We can’t even answer that question ourselves,” a government official involved with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said of whether Trump has returned all documents. “It’s not like there’s this perfect inventory and you can look at it and say, ‘What do we have and what are we missing?’”
The Archives initially created a list of things officials had expected to receive once Trump left the White House based off public reporting of certain items. Once officials realized that those high-profile items hadn’t flowed to the Archives post-presidency, they started the long recovery process to retrieve the documents from Mar-a-Lago.
But the Archives lacks the resources to track most bodies of records at an item level, instead controlling the materials from a broader level — such as a series or folder level. A series-level control is most common and includes information about the records creator, time period, volume, and how the records are arranged. The Archives strives to gain folder-level control of records whenever possible, where the title of every folder in every box in a series of records is known.
“As far as knowing what he took up to the residence, what went to Mar-a-Lago, Bedminster and anywhere else — that’s something only the former president knows,” the government official added.
Intelligence agencies, however, are known to keep item control of documents related to top-secret programs due to the sensitive nature of the information. But even then, there is room for error in keeping an airtight account of all of the documents.
The lack of specificity and control over the material highlights some of the issues that some lawmakers have started to raise regarding the Presidential Records Act and the record-keeping process that keeps the Archives at an arm’s length until the end of an administration.