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US House panel probing boxes of presidential records found at Trump’s Florida home

Investigation comes amid news report claiming former president also destroyed documents while in office; records are supposed to be preserved in national archives

This November 21, 2016 file photo, shows the Mar-a-Lago resort owned by Donald Trump, in Palm Beach, Florida.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This November 21, 2016 file photo, shows the Mar-a-Lago resort owned by Donald Trump, in Palm Beach, Florida.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee is investigating whether former US president Donald Trump violated the Presidential Records Act, after boxes of presidential records were discovered at his Florida estate and a news report surfaced of him destroying documents while in office.

Oversight committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a statement Thursday that she was “deeply concerned that these records were not provided to the National Archives and Records Administration promptly at the end of the Trump administration and they appear to have been removed from the White House.”

Maloney wrote a letter to the archivist, David Ferriero, seeking information on 15 boxes of records the National Archives recovered from Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort, in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Presidential Records Act mandates that records made by a sitting president and his staff are preserved in the archives, and an outgoing leader is responsible for turning over documents to the National Archives at the end of the term.

The oversight committee is seeking communications between the National Archives and Trump’s aides about the missing boxes and information on what they may have contained. Maloney is asking for the information by the end of next week.

Records are central to any presidency, but Trump’s, in particular, has been at the center of an investigation by another House committee that’s investigating the violent January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, which sought to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election, won by Democrat Joe Biden. Trump, a Republican, tried and failed to withhold White House documents in a dispute that rose to the US Supreme Court.

An aide to then-US president Donald Trump carries a box of documents before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 7, 2019, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The former president said in a statement that following “collaborative and respectful discussions,” the National Archives arranged for the transport from Mar-a-Lago “of boxes that contained Presidential Records in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.”

“The papers were given easily and without conflict and on a very friendly basis,” Trump said in the statement, which added that the records will one day become part of the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library.

There are also concerns that Trump was destroying records before he left office, and the House oversight panel wrote to the archivist in December 2020, as Trump’s term was winding down, about those concerns.

The Washington Post reported recently that Trump “tore up” data that was both “sensitive and mundane” and that the archivist has referred the matter to the Justice Department to investigate whether Trump violated the Records Act. The Justice Department did not comment.

Staff in the White House residence periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet, according to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s upcoming book, the Axios news site reported. The staff believed the president had been flushing away pieces of paper, the report said.

Former US president Donald Trump speaks at a rally, on January 29, 2022, in Conroe, Texas. (Jason Fochtman/Houston Chronicle via AP)

A referral for potential criminal prosecution from a federal agency or from Congress does not mean that the Justice Department is likely to bring charges or that it will even investigate the matter.

The National Archives, in its own statements earlier this week, acknowledged that Trump representatives had been cooperating with it and had located records “that had not been transferred to the National Archives at the end of the Trump administration.” The agency arranged for the documents to be transported to Washington, DC, and did not travel to Florida.

The archivist’s office said the former president’s representatives are continuing to search for additional records that belong to the archives.

“Whether through the creation of adequate and proper documentation, sound records management practices, the preservation of records, or the timely transfer of them to the National Archives at the end of an Administration, there should be no question as to need for both diligence and vigilance,” Ferriero said. “Records matter.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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