Former US presidents and vice presidents urged to recheck classified documents

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Archives has asked former U.S. presidents and vice presidents to recheck their personal records for any classified documents following news that President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence had such documents in their possession.

The Archives sent a letter Thursday to representatives of former presidents and vice presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan to ensure compliance with the Presidential Records Act, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. The law states that all records created or received by the president are the property of the US government and will be managed by the Archives at the end of an administration.

The Archives sent the letter to representatives of former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan, and former Vice Presidents Pence, Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle .

The responsibility to comply with the Presidential Archives Act “does not diminish after the end of an administration,” the Archives wrote in the letter. “Therefore, we ask that you carry out an assessment of any material held outside (the Archives) that relates to the administration for which you are a designated representative under the PRA, to determine whether sets of records previously assumed to be of a personal nature could inadvertently contain presidential or vice-presidential documents subject to the PRA, whether classified or not.

Spokespersons for former Presidents Trump, Obama, Clinton and former Vice Presidents Pence, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Freddy Ford, chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, suggested in his response to the Archives that the Bush office did not believe a search was necessary, saying, “Thank you for your note. We understand its purpose and remain confident that no such material is in our possession.

Biden’s lawyers came across classified documents from his time as vice president in a locked cabinet as they packed up an office he no longer uses in November. Since then, subsequent research by the FBI and Biden’s lawyers found more documents. Former Vice President Pence also, this week, discovered documents and returned them after previously saying he did not believe he had any.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but research by Biden’s attorneys and the FBI appears to respond to the Archives’ request.

The Archives had no comment.

Managing classified documents has been a recurring problem for decades, from presidents to Cabinet members and staff in multiple administrations dating back to Jimmy Carter. But the issue has taken on greater prominence since former President Donald Trump voluntarily kept classified documents at his Florida estate, prompting the FBI’s unprecedented seizure of thousands of pages of documents last year. .

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s handling of the documents, as well as Biden’s.

It turns out that officials from all levels of government discover they are in possession of classified documents and turn them over to authorities at least several times a year, according to another person familiar with the matter who spoke under cover of the matter. anonymity due to the sensitive nature of classified documents.

Current and former officials involved in handling classified information say that while there are clear policies on how such information should be reviewed and stored, these policies are sometimes set aside at the highest levels. Teams of national security officials, secretaries, and military aides who share responsibility for keeping senior executives — and executives themselves — informed may bend the rules for convenience, expediency, or sometimes mere negligence.

While much of the attention has been focused on classified information, the Presidential Archives Act actually requires that, since the Reagan administration, all documents be transferred to the archives, regardless of classification.

It is against federal law to have classified documents in an unauthorized location, but it is only a crime if it was done intentionally.

Speaking at an independent press conference on Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that while he couldn’t discuss any specific ongoing investigation, “we’ve had for a number of years a number of investigations into mismanagement, which is unfortunately part and parcel of the work of our counterintelligence division and our counterintelligence program.

He said it was necessary for people to be aware of the laws and rules governing the handling of classified information. “These rules,” he said, “exist for a reason.”


Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Farnoush Amiri contributed.