National Archives Asks Ex-Presidents and Vice Presidents to Scour Their Files
WASHINGTON — The National Archives has asked former presidents and vice presidents to check their personal files for classified or presidential records that might have been missed in previous searches, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
The archives, which oversees materials covered by the Presidential Records Act and other federal laws, sent a letter to representatives on Thursday asking for any materials that were inadvertently retained. The request comes after documents with classified markings were found at former President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, President Biden’s Delaware home and his think tank in Washington, and former Vice President Mike Pence’s residence in Indiana.
The responsibility to comply with federal records law “does not diminish after the end of an administration,” William J. Bosanko, the chief operating officer with the National Archives and Records Administration, wrote in the letter.
“Therefore, we request that you conduct an assessment of any materials” to determine “whether bodies of materials previously assumed to be personal in nature might inadvertently contain presidential or vice-presidential records,” Mr. Bosanko said in his request, which covered both classified and unclassified materials.
The letter was sent to representatives for former Presidents Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and former Vice Presidents Pence, Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle, according to CNN, which reported on the letter earlier on Thursday. Former President Jimmy Carter did not receive a request because the Presidential Records Act took effect after he left office in 1981.
A spokesman for the archives had no comment.
The request reflects a growing sense that the improper retention of records, which became a pressing national issue after F.B.I. agents descended on Mr. Trump’s Florida home and uncovered a trove of classified files, might represent a wider problem rooted in the sheer volume of paperwork generated by successive administrations.
Even so, the circumstances surrounding the discovery of documents at Mr. Trump’s resort are starkly different from the discovery of the other caches of presidential files. Mr. Trump defied repeated attempts to retrieve the documents, while Mr. Biden and Mr. Pence reported the situation to federal officials, then complied with requests made by the archives and the Justice Department.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has appointed two special counsels to investigate Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. It is not clear if he plans to do the same with Mr. Pence, and Mr. Garland declined to address that issue when asked about it this week.
He has also refused to say whether the tracking of government documents or classification procedures need to be changed in light of recent events.
On Thursday, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, sidestepped that same question, but suggested that he would continue to enforce existing regulations governing the handling of such materials.
“We have had, for quite a number of years, a number of mishandling investigations — that is unfortunately a regular part of our counterintelligence division’s work,” Mr. Wray said during a news conference at the Justice Department’s headquarters. “People need to be conscious of the rules regarding classified information and appropriate handling of it. Those rules are there for a reason.”