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Why Trump told the National Archives, ‘I want my documents back!’

After trying to smear the FBI, Donald Trump has now launched an offensive against the National Archives. It's clearly not going well.


In the nearly two months since the Mar-a-Lago search, Donald Trump has directed much of his fury at the FBI. As regular readers know, the former president has lashed out wildly at the bureau and its agents, calling them “corrupt,” accusing them of “atrocities,” and telling his followers that the federal law enforcement officials are “mobsters,” “vicious monsters” and “a real threat to democracy.”

But following up on our recent coverage, the Republican’s contempt for the National Archives and Record Administration is nearly as intense.

Two weeks ago, for example, by way of his Twitter-like social media platform, the former president insisted that the Archives are “controlled” by the “Radical Left.” He also accused NARA of “instigating the Raid on Mar-a-Lago.” A couple of days later, Trump sat down with Fox News and said, in reference to the Archives, “A radical left group of people [are] running that thing.”

Yesterday, the Republican turned things up a notch, drawing attention to a 2009 story about the Archives losing a hard drive from the Clinton White House, as well as a 1993 story about archivists losing tapes from the H.W. Bush White House.

And this, evidently, gave Trump an idea for a written statement, issued yesterday afternoon. It read in its entirety:

“NARA lost a whole hard drive full of HIGHLY SENSITIVE information from the Clinton White House — more than 100,000 Social Security numbers and addresses, Secret Service and White House operating procedures (EXTREMELY SENSITIVE!), political records, and who knows what else. They left the hard drive in an unsecured location, and didn’t realize it was gone for months — some say the data could have filled millions of books, and NARA admitted the material was ‘personally identifiable,’ impacting thousands of White House staffers, visitors, and even one of Al Gore’s daughters. NARA actually had to offer a large ($50,000!) reward to try and get the information back. What else have they ‘lost’? How can Americans trust a system like this? There is no security at NARA. I want my documents back!”

There are a few angles to this to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that the Archives lost an external hard drive 13 years ago, and that misstep proved inconvenient for a lot of people.

How is that relevant to Trump’s decision to take highly sensitive materials to his glorified country club and refuse to give them back? It’s not. The former president would apparently have people believe that the 2009 incident, coupled with an unrelated misstep from 29 years ago, is proof that NARA is somehow untrustworthy. That’s both wrong and pitiful.

But it’s also completely beside the point. Even if the Archives lost things all the time — that’s clearly not the case, given that the Republican could only find two mistakes in the past three decades — Trump would still have to follow the law.

And in the Mar-a-Lago scandal, there’s reason to believe the former president did not follow the law.

Second, Trump’s insistence that there’s “no security at NARA,” based on a lost hard drive from 13 years ago, is kind of hilarious. Indeed, if we’re going to have a real conversation about proper security, we should probably start the scrutiny by examining serious lapses at Mar-a-Lago.

Finally, there’s the former president’s concluding declaration: “I want my documents back!” As he apparently sees it, if archivists lost a hard drive in 2009, officials should return the materials he took from the White House.

That doesn’t make any sense, it’s not how reality works, and if Trump genuinely believes he’ll get the classified documents back, he’ll likely be disappointed.