The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House Democrats introduce bill requiring certification of presidential records

In the weeks since the FBI searched former president Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate and seized about 100 documents with classification markings during an Aug. 8 raid, Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong and argued he declassified the information. (Department of Justice via AP) (AP)

Legislation introduced Monday by the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee would require the president, vice president and certain White House staffers to formally attest to complying with the Presidential Records Act on an annual basis and upon leaving office.

The Presidential Records Certification Act, proposed by Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), comes as the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into former president Donald Trump’s possession of classified records more than 18 months after he left office.

Maloney launched a congressional investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents and asked the National Archives earlier this fall to review whether all presidential records from the Trump White House have been accounted for after the Justice Department’s seizure of documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in August. That seizure included roughly 100 classified documents and 48 empty folders with banners marked “classified.”

As a part of that review, Maloney requested the Archives seek a “personal certification” from Trump that he surrendered all presidential records. Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall responded that the Archives does know “that we do not have custody of everything we should.”

Maloney’s proposed bill requires the White House counsel to “collect and maintain” all certifications, and it imposes a civil penalty of up to $50,000 in the case that an individual knowingly falsified a certification.

“Even as we continue to investigate the full extent of this troubling conduct and the damage it has caused, it is clear that our law needs reform to prevent future abuses,” Maloney said in a statement. “The Presidential Records Certification Act is a common-sense step toward increasing accountability. Presidential records belong to the people, and those entrusted with serving at the highest levels of government owe it to the American people to preserve, and not conceal, the record of our shared history.”

Maloney might have a limited window to pass such legislation with polls favoring Republicans to win back the House in Tuesday’s midterm election. The Oversight Committee’s probe into whether Trump properly followed the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act is also ongoing. The Washington Post reported last week that Maloney’s committee has sought to account for specific gifts with the Archives.