Former President Donald Trump has made numerous false and unsupported claims about the federal investigation into his handling of government documents, a probe he announced Thursday has resulted in his indictment.
Here is a fact check of the claims Trump has made about the investigation since the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago resort and residence in August 2022.
False claim: Trump was following the Presidential Records Act by refusing to immediately return documents
Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law, says he was supposed to hold negotiations with the National Archives and Records Administration about the return of official documents after his presidency.
For example, he said in a March 2023 interview on Fox that the law is “very specific”: “It says you are going to discuss the documents. You discuss everything – not only docu– everything – about what’s going in NARA, et cetera, et cetera. You’re gonna discuss it. You will talk, talk, talk. And if you can’t come to an agreement, you’re gonna continue to talk.”
He made a similar claim at a CNN town hall in May, saying the law “says you talk, you negotiate, you make a deal.”
Facts First: Trump’s claim is false. The Presidential Records Act says that, the moment a president leaves office, NARA gets custody and control of all presidential records from his administration. Nothing in the law says there should be a negotiation between a former president and NARA over a former president’s return of presidential documents – much less that there should have been a monthslong battle after NARA first contacted Trump’s team in 2021 to try to get some of the records that had not been handed over at the end of his presidency.
The key sentence from the Presidential Records Act is unequivocal: “Upon the conclusion of a President’s term of office, or if a President serves consecutive terms upon the conclusion of the last term, the Archivist of the United States shall assume responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of, and access to, the Presidential records of that President.”
False claim: Obama, the Bushes and others took millions of documents home with them after leaving office
Trump has repeatedly claimed that he has been singled out by federal law enforcement even though his predecessors as president all took documents with them after leaving office.
For example, Trump claimed in the fall of 2022 that former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush all took millions of documents; he repeated the claim that Obama took documents at the CNN town hall in May. He also claimed that George H.W. Bush took his documents to a poorly secured Chinese restaurant and bowling alley.
Facts First: This is all false, as NARA itself pointed out in a statement in 2022. In reality, NARA was granted custody of the presidential records of former presidents (beginning with Ronald Reagan as soon as these presidents left office) as soon as these presidents left office, as required by the Presidential Records Act, and it was NARA, not those presidents, that moved those documents out of the nation’s capital to NARA-managed temporary archival facilities near where their permanent presidential libraries would be built. The NARA-managed facility where records from the George H.W. Bush administration were stored was indeed a former restaurant and bowling alley, but it had been turned into a full-fledged archival facility, and professionally secured in various ways, by the time the documents were moved in.
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