When the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago eight weeks ago, it was tempting to think the larger controversy had entered a new phase. After all, FBI agents had just retrieved materials Donald Trump had improperly taken from the White House. The question going forward was about how and whether the former president would be held accountable.
But as it turns out, the earlier phase isn’t over just yet. Are there still, even now, documents in Team Trump’s possession that it isn’t supposed to have? NBC News reported yesterday:
The National Archives and Records Administration has informed the House Oversight and Reform Committee that some records from the Trump White House have not been turned over in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
Let’s briefly revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
About a month ago, Justice Department officials working on the Mar-a-Lago case noted in a court filing that investigators are trying to identify “the existence of any additional classified records that are not being properly stored.” The phrasing raised the provocative possibility that some materials have not yet been recovered, the FBI’s search notwithstanding.
It also dovetailed with a recent Washington Post report in which officials with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), suggested that they, too, feared that the former president had not yet surrendered everything he took.
Three weeks ago, NARA added that the agency still isn’t sure whether Trump and his team still have records they’re not supposed to have.
There now appears to be some greater clarity. As NBC News’ report added, acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall sent a written response to House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney late last week, noting that the National Archives is still trying to retrieve records from Trump administration officials who “conducted official business using non-official electronic messaging accounts.” Wall added, “While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should.”
Just as notably, the acting archivist said the National Archives would consult with the Justice Department about whether “to initiate an action for the recovery of records unlawfully removed.”
It’s worth emphasizing that Trump is not the sole focus of the inquiry. Indeed, in her letter on Friday, Wall specifically referenced the Justice Department’s lawsuit against former White House aide Peter Navarro over his email records.
But as Maloney noted in a written statement, it’s a broad area of concern. “Trump and his senior staff have shown an utter disregard for the rule of law and our national security by failing to return presidential records as the law requires,” the outgoing congresswoman said. “I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that all presidential records from the Trump White House are returned to the custody of the government and to make sure these abuses never happen again.”
Let’s also not forget that Maloney has requested that the National Archives “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.”
How likely is it that the former president will personally certify that he has given up all of the records he illegally kept? I’m inclined to put this in the “not going to happen” category, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the effort. Watch this space.