National Archives head encourages employees to continue their “fiercely non-political work”
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall sent a memo last week to all NARA employees to update them on the status of former President Donald Trump’s presidential records and clarified the Archives’ role in the probe so far. She also sought to encourage the staff to continue its “fiercely non-political” work, as the normally low-profile agency receives threats from some and praise from others — neither welcome — over its role in the federal investigation of former President Donald Trump.
Noting that the Archives usually does not share “non-routine correspondence with former Presidents and their representatives,” Wall acknowledged that in this case, she published the official copy of a May letter she had sent to a Trump representative, Evan Corcoran, after he had released it.
Wall explained that her letter to Corcoran addressed the White House’s request “on behalf of the Department of Justice” that NARA give the FBI access to the 15 boxes returned to the Archives by Trump, “so that the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community could examine them.” She went on to say that when NARA receives requests like this, it gives the former president a chance “to review the responsive records for constitutionally based privileges.”
She said the the White House counsel had informed her that President Joe Biden deferred to her determination, in consultation with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, “regarding whether or not I should uphold the former President’s purported ‘protective assertion of executive privilege.'”
In her letter to Corcoran, she informed him “that the time period for review had expired and that ‘an assertion of executive privilege against the incumbent president under these circumstances would not be viable,'” because there was “no precedent for an assertion of executive privilege by a former President against an incumbent President to prevent the latter from obtaining from NARA Presidential records belonging to the Federal Government.”
In that letter to Corcoran and another to Congress, Wall said, “DOJ has been exclusively responsible for all aspects of its investigation, and NARA has not been involved in any searches that it has conducted.”
She also reiterated several points from a statement by former Archivist David Ferriero, noting that the Archives “did not visit or ‘raid’ the Mar-a-Lago property; that representatives of President Trump informed us that they were continuing to search for additional Presidential records that belong to the National Archives; and that some of the records we received at the end of the Trump Administration included paper records that had been torn up.”
Wall also decried the politicization of the National Archives’ efforts to preserve documents that belong to the public.
“The National Archives has been the focus of intense scrutiny for months, this week especially, with many people ascribing political motivation to our actions,” Wall wrote. “NARA has received messages from the public accusing us of corruption and conspiring against the former president, or congratulating NARA for ‘bringing him down.’ Neither is accurate or welcome. For the past 30-plus years as a NARA career civil servant, I have been proud to work for a uniquely and fiercely non-political government agency, known for its integrity and its position as an ‘honest broker.’ This notion is in our establishing laws and in our very culture. I hold it dear, and I know you do, too.”
The federal government is investigating Trump for potential violation of three criminal statutes, including a provision of the Espionage Act relating to unauthorized possession of documents or information relating to the national defense, according to the unsealed search warrant that was executed at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Aug. 8 and reviewed by CBS News. The FBI seized 11 sets of classified documents, including four sets that were classified “top secret,” according to the warrant.
The former president has attempted to shield records from the FBI for months by claiming executive privilege. But according to the Presidential Records Act, all documents of a former president not deemed to be personal records are to be handed to the National Archives once he leaves office. That doesn’t mean they become open to the public now, but it does mean they are supposed to be in the National Archives’ possession. In August, the FBI seized more classified records from Mar-a-Lago.