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What's Behind Trump's Defiance of the National Archives (and the Law?)

In the nearly three weeks since the FBI searched former president Donald Trump’s Florida home to recover classified documents, the National Archives and Records Administration has become the target of a rash of threats and vitriol, according to people familiar with the situation. Civil servants tasked by law with preserving and securing the U.S. government’s records were rattled.

On Wednesday, the agency’s head sent an email to the staff. Though academic and suffuse with legal references, the message from acting archivist Debra Steidel Wall was simple: Stay above the fray and stick to the mission.

“NARA has received messages from the public accusing us of corruption and conspiring against the former President, or congratulating NARA for ‘bringing him down,’ ” Steidel Wall wrote in the agencywide message, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Neither is accurate or welcome.”

The email capped a year-long saga that has embroiled the Archives — widely known for being featured in the 2004 Nicolas Cage movie, “National Treasure” — in a protracted fight with Trump over classified documents and other records that were taken when he left office.

Archives officials have emailed, called and cajoled the former president and his representatives to follow the law and return the documents. When the Archives recovered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago in January, agency officials found a mess of disorganized papers lacking any inventory. Highly classified material was mixed in with newspaper clippings and dinner menus. And Archives officials believed more items were still missing.

What happened next was an extraordinary step for America’s record keepers: they referred the matter to the Justice Department, opening a dramatic new chapter in what had been a quietly simmering dispute.


“Without the preservation of the records of government, and without access to them, you can’t have an informed population, and without an informed population, you lack one of the basic tools to preserving democracy,” said former acting archivist Trudy Peterson, who expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric is damaging the public perception of the Archives. “The system won’t work if the neutrality of the National Archives is not protected.”

This portrait of an agency under siege by a former president and his supporters is based on interviews with 14 current and former Archives employees, Trump advisers, historians and others familiar with the escalating dispute, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.

Read entire article at Washington Post