The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) publicly refuted the falsehood that has been promoted by former President Donald Trump that former presidents have taken presidential records with them when they leave office or kept them in “substandard conditions.”
“Reports that indicate or imply that those Presidential records were in the possession of the former Presidents or their representatives, after they left office, or that the records were housed in substandard conditions, are false and misleading,” NARA said Tuesday in an unusual statement.
Trump, who has been fighting with the government over records he took from the White House to his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, on Sunday raised incomplete and inaccurate comparisons with his predecessors’ handling of their records when they left the White House. He said at a rally in Arizona that former President Bill Clinton’s records were taken “from the White House to a former car dealership in Arkansas,” that former President Barack Obama “moved more than 20 truckloads, over 33 million pages of documents, both classified and unclassified, to a poorly built and totally unsafe former furniture store located in a rather bad neighborhood in Chicago” and George W. Bush “stored 68 million pages in a warehouse in Texas.”
In each of these cases, it was NARA that announced where the presidential records would be processed and stored while the presidential libraries were being built. In May 2000, for instance, the Archives issued a press release saying that the site selected for Clinton’s records was “formerly the Balch Motor Company,” located in Little Rock, about 1.5 miles from “the site of the future Clinton Presidential Library.” NARA negotiated the lease and would operate the 42,000-square-foot facility until the opening of the library, its release said.
Perhaps the most dramatic accusation Trump made was the claim that former President George H.W. Bush “took millions and millions of documents to a former bowling alley pieced together with what was then an old and broken Chinese restaurant. They put them together. And it had a broken front door and broken windows. Other than that it was quite secure.”
As Politifact notes, pointing to an Associated Press clip from the 1990s, it is true that the documents and memorabilia from George H.W. Bush’s White House was housed in “an old bowling alley” and “what used to be the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant” while his library was being built in College Station, Texas.
But it was far more secure than Trump’s rendition. The AP noted:
“Uniformed guards patrol the premises. There are closed-circuit television monitors and sophisticated electronic detectors along walls and doors. Some printed material is classified and will remain so for years; it is open only to those with top-secret clearances.”
The Bush records were overseen, catalogued and organized by an acting director from NARA and 10 researchers.
What was the bowling alley was filled with rows of shelves to hold campaign memorabilia, and 58 lanes of shelves held boxes of Bush White House documents, according to the AP.
In response to a request for comment, the Bush Library sent the original NARA response.
NARA said in its statement that it took “physical and legal custody of the Presidential Records” from the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan when they left office.
The National Archives explained that the records first go to temporary facilities leased from the General Services Administration (GSA) and close to where their presidential libraries “built for NARA” will be located. The temporary facilities are managed and staffed “exclusively by NARA employees,” NARA’s statement said.