burn it down
November 16, 2020

The president who made a pretty big stink about Hillary Clinton's emails is doing a lot of deleting himself.

Early in President Trump's term, then-White House Counsel Don McGahn warned the executive branch against destroying any presidential records or performing online communications on anything but official email accounts. But it doesn't seem the Trump White House followed that guidance, and could embark on a records-destroying fest as the president's term winds down, Jill Lepore reports for The New Yorker.

The Presidential Records Act puts all of a president's records into the public domain five years after they leave office; a former president can request 12 years for sensitive documents. But as David Ferriero, the United States' archivist, describes, the PRA "operates, essentially, as an honor system." "If the president wanted to, he could pull together all of the pieces of paper that he has in his office and have a bonfire with them," Kel McClanahan, a national security lawyer, told The New Yorker.

"The rules about record-keeping, like so much about American government, weren't set up with someone like Trump in mind," Lepore writes. Trump's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump used a personal email to conduct official business, his son-in-law Jared Kushner regularly used the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, and the president himself regularly deletes his own tweets. And as Trump prepares to exit the White House on not-so-great terms, "it's not impossible that his White House will destroy records not so much to cover its own tracks but to sabotage the Biden Administration," Lepore says. "This would be a crime, of course, but Trump could issue blanket pardons." Read more at The New Yorker. Kathryn Krawczyk

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