The Trump administration’s disregard for established legal precedent has been no secret. Now, a report from NPR outlines criticism of the administration for apparently setting up key records for destruction that cover issues like immigrant detention. That problem stands in addition to the repeated absence of any official notetaking from Trump’s own meetings with foreign leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, and, on occasion, Trump himself has even ripped up key materials covering the operations of his administration. In other words — they’re attempting to work against even a basic level of public transparency for their behavior.
Just last week, the American Immigration Council and three other, related groups filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a slew of documents covering issues like immigrant detention and mistreatment of immigrants held by the Trump administration. They’re hoping to preserve the material.
At present, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the authority on the retention of documents from ICE, and at present, the agency says that “after receiving public comments it will preserve some immigration documents for 25 years” — but then after that, according to the system as-is, those documents will no longer be preserved. American Immigration Council attorney Emily Creighton called the current system “mind-boggling,” noting that it’s “almost as though we are, you know, erasing our nation’s conscience.”
As Columbia University history professor Matthew Connelly noted:
‘They feel like that’s long enough for people to file FOIAs, for litigation to play out. But what that means is that, you know, 30 years from now, none of those records will any longer exist. They’ll all be gone… In fairness, the National Archives has always had a difficult job. You know, in effect, they’re trying to predict history.’
In some cases — like those presidential meetings with foreign leaders — appropriate records have never even been created in the first place. Trump has met with Putin — an authoritarian despot known for his manipulation tactics — with no notes emanating from the meeting. Thomas Blanton of George Washington University notes:
‘This is an administration that doesn’t want to keep a … record [that] might contradict the president. That would be bad for your professional future at the White House.’
At present, George Washington University’s National Security Archive — which Blanton directs — is appealing a ruling against their suit meant to try and force the Trump administration to more closely comply with the Presidential Records Act rather than destroying or never even creating records. One might hope that someone with as “mundane” of a job as creating the records of Trump administration activities might be free from political considerations, but in the Trump era, that’s simply not the case.
There’s definitely plenty of questionable activity to record from the Trump administration in the first place. Under Trump’s leadership, immigrant families have been separated and held in dangerous conditions, the federal government has repeatedly kicked the can down the road instead of dealing with foreign threats to U.S. elections, and more. And there’s no sign that the pace of history-setting activities will stop anytime soon.