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National Archives release records about recovery effort

A detailed property inventory of documents and other items seized from former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is seen after the document was released to the public by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach, Florida, September 2, 2022.

Jim Bourg | Reuters

The National Archives and Records Administration on Monday publicly released a small fraction of communications related to government documents removed by former President Donald Trump and his reported destruction of some White House records.

The communications related to NARA’s efforts to recover those documents, which included letters to Trump from former President Barack Obama and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. They also expressed the agency’s concern about Trump’s reported penchant for ripping some documents he read in the White House.

Other communications released Monday included correspondence between NARA and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which earlier this year asked David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, for details about 15 boxes of presidential records that it had recently recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club residence in Palm Beach, Florida.

The communications were released in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

NARA said it was withholding the vast majority of the communications, including letters it sent to Trump’s lawyer, the Department of Justice, Congress and the White House, because they were exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

The release comes as the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Trump for taking government documents with him when he left office.

That probe led to an FBI raid in early August of the Mar-a-Lago Club. Agents seized thousands of government records, a number of them highly classified. The raid occurred after the DOJ came to suspect that Trump had retained more official documents than the ones included in the 15 boxes given to NARA.

In all, NARA on Monday released 11 pages and withheld 298 pages of communications between the agency and representatives for Trump.

And it released just 54 pages of communications from NARA to what the agency called “external entities other than Trump representatives.” NARA is withholding 1,249 pages of communications in that category.

“NARA will continue to review additional responsive information in the coming months for possible release,” the agency said in a statement. “We are not able to comment more on today’s release because of pending litigation.”

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In a May 2021 email that was released Monday, NARA General Counsel Gary Stern told lawyers for Trump about ongoing efforts to capture presidential records on social media accounts, but added, “There are also certain paper/textual records that we cannot account for.”

“We therefore need your immediate assistance to ensure that NARA receives all Presidential records as required by the Presidential Records Act,” Stern wrote.

As an example, Stern wrote “the original correspondence between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un were not transferred to us; it is our understanding that in January 2021, just prior to the end of the Administration, the originals were put in a binder for the President, but were never transferred to the Office of Records Management for transfer to NARA.”

“It is essential that these original records because transferred to NARA as soon as possible.”

Stern added that the letter that former President Obama left for Trump at that Oval Office when Obama’s presidency ended likewise “has not been transferred” to NARA.

“It is a Presidential record,” and thus must be held by NARA, Stern noted.

Stern also wrote that NARA understood that about two dozen boxes of original presidential records were kept in the residence of the White House during Trump’s final year in office, but had not yet been sent to NARA “despite a determination by [White House counsel] Pat Cipollone in the final days of the Administration that they need be.”

In another document released Monday, a June 2018 letter from Stern to Trump’s deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, Stern noted that the news outlet Politico had published an article days earlier about two former White House employees who had been responsible for taping back together documents that “were torn up by President Trump.”

“I am writing to request information on how the White House is addressing this issue,” wrote Stern, who noted that such documents would be subject to retention under the Presidential Records Act.

“How many records were torn up? Have any records been destroyed or were in a state that they cannot be recovered,” Stern asked. “What steps are taken to recover any records that have been torn up?”

The records NARA released Monday do not include any response to Stern’s letter.

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