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Jared Kushner and Donald Trump

Donald Trump and agencies and individuals in his administration have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to ensure that they comply with the Presidential Records Act and do not destroy documents related to the Trump administration.

The plaintiffs that filed the suit are the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research institution associated with the George Washington University; the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the American Historical Association, both professional organizations serving historians; and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a nonprofit ethics watchdog organization.

The named defendants are Trump; the Executive Office of the President; presidential adviser Jared Kushner; David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States; and the National Archives and Records Administration. The individual plaintiffs have been sued in their official capacities.

CREW said in a statement: "As President Trump's term draws to a close, we face an increasing risk that historically valuable records of his presidency will be permanently lost in violation of records laws ... By adopting a policy that allows White House personnel to capture and preserve only portions of electronic messages they send or receive on unofficial messaging accounts, the White House is permitting the loss and destruction of Presidential record material."

Under the White House policy, screenshots of incomplete portions of material communicated via unofficial messaging services would count as preserving official presidential records. CREW notes: "But as guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration makes clear, screenshots that do not capture a message's metadata are not 'complete copies' as the Presidential Records Act requires." It specifies that Jared Kushner has used unofficial platforms in conducting official government business.

Noah Bookbinder, CREW's executive director, said: "The Presidential Records Act exists for a simple reason: to prevent presidents and their staff from destroying historically valuable records. By deleting or preserving only parts of these records, the White House is destroying essential historical records."

"With the president facing potential legal and financial exposure once he leaves office, there is a growing risk that he will destroy records of his presidency before leaving," CREW warned.

Trump and his White House have provided ample grounds for concern that they will destroy important records.

Two years ago, Politico reported on Trump's habit of ripping up official papers that staff later had to tape back together in order to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

Richard Immerman, chair of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations' historical documentation committee, said: "For the purpose of creating a 'usable past' for generations of future citizens, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations is gravely concerned with preserving the integrity of the Trump administration's records. In light of the administration's previous violations of the Presidential Records Act, it consequently judges it essential to take legal action to prevent any efforts to destroy records or otherwise fail to retain them in their entirety."

In addition to destroying documents, Trump has also exhibited a pattern of withholding records. He refused to submit records subpoenaed by Congress during his impeachment earlier this year. He has also never releases his tax returns, despite having claimed he would comply with the norms kept to by past presidents and do so.

Last month, the Democratic chairs of almost two dozen House committees sent letters directing the White House and more than 50 other federal agencies to comply with federal laws on record-keeping.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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