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In a clear win for government transparency, National Security Archive et. al. v. Donald J. Trump et. al. lawsuit prevented the Trump administration from what was feared to be a wholesale destruction and loss of presidential records including the failure to preserve records — including President Trump’s reported ripping up of documents in the Oval Office — former aide Steve Bannon’s use of disappearing instant messages to communicate with campaign embeds at the agencies, private email use by Ivanka Trump and other top officials, and the routine use of encrypted WhatsApp messages by Jared Kushner and others.
Thank you co-plaintiffs National Security Archive, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), the American Historical Association (AHA), and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for stepping up to save the official White House record for historians, students, and future litigators!
The National Security Archive et. al. v. Donald J. Trump et. al. lawsuit, filed December 1, 2020 to prevent a possible bonfire of records in the Rose Garden, achieved a formal litigation hold on White House records that lasted all the way through the transition and Inauguration Day, the preservation of controversial WhatsApp messages, and a formal change in White House records policy.
…The lawsuit argued that Trump White House policy that only saved via screen shots the instant messages of government business – such as Jared Kushner’s negotiations with Saudi prince bin Salman – failed to capture the complete record that the law required. Plaintiffs pointed to repeated media accounts of White House failures to preserve records, including President Trump’s reported ripping up of documents in the Oval Office, former aide Steve Bannon’s use of disappearing instant messages to communicate with campaign embeds at the agencies, private email use by Ivanka Trump and other top officials, and the routine use of encrypted WhatsApp messages by Kushner and others.
Justice Department lawyers defending against the lawsuit have informed plaintiffs that White House records managers have now successfully deployed an archival tool in the WhatsApp software to capture full copies including links and attachments of the WhatsApp threads in Kushner’s account and other WhatsApp users at the White House.
NARA embroiled in politics surrounding documents re Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. The public loses.
I’ve been trying to get my head around the very public wrangling of the release of archival records relating to Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The National Archives (NARA) is in the process of releasing “Approximately 900,000 pages of email and paper records were requested by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley.” But democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer are accusing NARA of withholding documents relating to Kavanaugh’s time as Staff Secretary under President George W. Bush. NARA has responded by saying that it is “longstanding and consistent practice” to respond only to requests from the Chair of Congressional Committees. Senate democrats have submitted FOIA requests for the remaining documents and are threatening to sue NARA if the FOIA request is denied.
Regardless of how many documents are released and made available to the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Grassley has scheduled the committee hearing for September 4, 2018, long before NARA says it will be able to finish its work. NARA says it expects to complete its review of the first roughly 300,000 pages by August 20, and the remaining 600,000 pages by the end of October. It’s unclear whether a lawsuit to release additional records will cause the committee’s work to be postponed.
Lost in all of this political wrangling (on top of the political wrangling whereby republicans blocked President Obama from nominating someone to the Supreme Court during his term) is the fact that the American public, regardless of political leaning, is losing out on really knowing the person being nominated for a lifetime position on the US Supreme Court, effecting the US political system for at least a generation to come.
Politics is a vicious game, but the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice shouldn’t be left to the will of pure partisanship. The public needs to have access to ALL of the records regarding Judge Cavanaugh’s public work, and the committee should have time to “advise and consent,” to understand the nominee’s record, deliberate, and appoint judges.
Feinstein wrote to archivist David Ferriero in a letter obtained by CNN on Wednesday, criticizing him for his narrow view of the law used to justify denying Democrats the documents. Democrats are set to begin meetings with Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the high court, after the August recess.
“Under your overly restrictive reading of the Presidential Records Act, minority members of the Senate Judiciary Committee now have no greater right to Mr. Kavanaugh’s records than members of the press and the public,” the California senator wrote.
“I ask that you reconsider the position set forth in your August 2 letter,” she continued. “These records are crucially important to the Senate’s understanding of Mr. Kavanaugh’s full record, and withholding them prevents the minority from satisfying its constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent on his nomination.”
Democrats are pushing for the federal government to release all documents created during Kavanaugh’s time at the White House, roughly three years during the George W. Bush administration when he served as staff secretary. Republicans have accused Democrats of seeking to delay Kavanaugh’s nomination with the request.
On July 31, 2018, the National Archives received a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Minority Member Senator Dianne Feinstein and the other minority members of the committee for Judge Kavanaugh’s Staff Secretary records, which number the equivalent of several million pages. However, this request does not meet the requirements of section 2205(2)(C) of the Presidential Records Act, as the Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero explained in an August 2, 2018, letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. On August 6, 2018, Senator Feinstein asked the Archivist to reconsider this position, and the Archivist responded on August 10, 2018.
As noted in both letters, since the Presidential Records Act was enacted in 1978, the National Archives longstanding and consistent practice has been to respond only to requests from the Chair of Congressional Committees, regardless of which political party is in power. For the same reason that the National Archives was not able to respond to Senator Feinstein’s request, the agency also declined to respond to the requests by Republican Ranking Members for Presidential records during President Obama’s Administration.
The Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register (OFR) have released a mobile Web application (app) on the daily public activities of President of the United States. Here is the announcement:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 10, 2012 No. 12-40
GPO AND NATIONAL ARCHIVES RELEASE PRESIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS APP
WASHINGTON-The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register (OFR) have released a mobile Web application (app) on the daily public activities of President of the United States. The app is part of both agencies efforts to support The White House digital strategy for the Federal Government by ensuring the American people have access to Government information on any device. The Presidential Documents app includes the President’s:
* Executive orders
* Communications to Congress and Federal agencies
* Approved acts
* Nominations submitted to the Senate
* White House announcements
* White House press releases
The app has user-friendly search capabilities allowing users to access content about the President by searching by date, category, subject, or location, which includes a map feature. This is the first time GPO has enabled an app with a geolocation feature providing users with access to the most recent content near their location. The public can take advantage of the free mobile Web app on most major mobile device platforms. GPO and OFR also make available the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys).
Link to app: http://m.gpo.gov/dcpd
“GPO continues to build upon its reputation as the digital information platform for the Federal Government with the development and release of the Presidential Documents app,” said Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks. “GPO and OFR have enjoyed a successful partnership for more than 75 years to make Federal Government information available in print, online and now on mobile devices.”
“OFR continues to push the envelope on public access to critical government information. Innovation is a key component to the NARA strategy and providing access via mobile apps is a great example of how OFR is embracing technology. I am very excited and proud of NARA’s relationship with GPO on this communication achievement,” said Archivist David Ferriero.
The Presidential Documents app is the third app released by GPO; other apps include the FY 2013 Budget app and the Mobile Member Guide, which provides users with official biographical information about Members of the 112th Congress. GPO has also supported the Library of Congress in creating an iPad app for the Congressional Record. The Presidential Documents app represents the first app for the OFR and the third app for the National Archives….
In May 1975, the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF) decided that it was necessary to question former President Richard M. Nixon in connection with various investigations being conducted by the WSPF. Mr. Nixon was questioned over the period of two days, June 23 and June 24, 1975, and the testimony was taken as part of various investigations being conducted by the January 7, 1974, Grand Jury for the District of Columbia (the third Watergate Grand Jury). Chief Judge George Hart signed an order authorizing that the sworn deposition of Mr. Nixon be taken at the Coast Guard Station in San Mateo, California with two members of the grand jury present.
- press release, National Archives and Records Administration.
- Nixon Grand Jury Records, National Archives and Records Administration. Files from the National Archives’ WSPF collection including the transcript of President Nixon’s grand jury testimony and associated materials.
- Nixon Grand Jury Records at GPO, FDsys.
- Nixon Grand Jury Records at Scribd.
Well, already there is an information gap — just two days into the new Administration. The first is constitutional, and stems from the stumbling exchange between Obama and Supreme Court Justice Roberts during the oath of office on Tuesday. Apparently the clumsy dialogue raised contstitutional questions of the legitmacy, and there was a do over Wednesday evening. Good to know the power of the mother of all goverenment information, the Constituion, still has its foundational mojo going — especially after eight years were the practice and philosophy seemed to consider constitutional advantages in such a limited fashion.
What I find more curious (but not surprised, considering other news stories of the technological and transitional state of affairs in the White House) is how few (if any) of Obama’s official words, statements, news releases, etc. actually appear on the White House web page. The other official sources, Weekly Compilation and the Federal Register are also behind.
I predict a robust life and purpose for government informationn librarians in the near future.
See you on Day 3