Trump’s “love letters” from Kim Jong-un spirited from White House, seized at Mar-a-Lago: report

Boxes of White House documents that had to be preserved under federal law were found at Trump's Palm Beach resort

By Igor Derysh

Published February 7, 2022 12:14PM (EST)

Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump improperly removed boxes of documents from the White House that were seized last month by the National Archives And Records Administration, according to the Washington Post.

Trump has repeatedly run afoul of the Presidential Records Act, which requires all official documents and gifts to be preserved. Trump repeatedly tore up documents in violation of the law and White House staffers routinely put documents in "burn bags" to be destroyed, the Post reported last week. The National Archives said that some of the documents it has turned over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot were torn up and had to be taped back together.

The National Archives also retrieved boxes of documents that had not been turned over at Mar-a-Lago in January, according to the Post. Trump advisers denied any "nefarious intent" to the outlet, which noted that the boxes contained gifts and letters from world leaders, including a letter from former President Barack Obama and letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, which Trump once described as "love letters."

"There is a very good chance that at least some of this material was classified – diplomatic confidential or otherwise," tweeted Jon Wolfsthal, a former national security adviser to Obama. "It is not just about Presidential Records act, but also protecting national security."

RELATED: Trump documents were torn up, taped together before reaching Jan. 6 committee

Though presidential administrations frequently run afoul of record preservation rules, a source familiar with the document transfer told the Post that the scale of records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago was "out of the ordinary."

"NARA has never had that kind of volume transfer after the fact like this," the source said.

Experts say that document preservation is critical for national security purposes. Presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky told the Post that undisclosed records "could pose a real concern if the next administration is flying blind without that information."

"The only way that a president can really be held accountable long term is to preserve a record about who said what, who did what, what policies were encouraged or adopted, and that is such an important part of the long-term scope of accountability — beyond just elections and campaigns," Chervinsky said.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a member of the Jan. 6 committee, told the outlet she was unaware that the documents were found at Mar-a-Lago.

"That they didn't follow rules is not a shock," she said. "As for how this development relates to the committee's work, we have different sources and methods for obtaining documents and information that we are seeking."

Former advisers told the Post that Trump was "unconcerned" with the record preservation law.

"Things that are national security sensitive or very clearly government documents should have been a part of a first sweep — so the fact that it's been this long doesn't reflect well on [Trump]," a former Obama-era White House lawyer told the outlet. "Why has it taken for a year for these boxes to get there? And are there more boxes?"

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Though the National Archives have limited ability to enforce the law, legal experts doubt that the Mar-a-Lago documents could lead to legal action.

"There is a high bar for bringing such cases," Charles Tiefer, a former counsel to the House of Representatives, told the outlet, though things are different when "there is willful and unlawful intent."

"You can't prosecute for just tearing up papers," he said. "You would have to show him being highly selective and have evidence that he wanted to behave unlawfully."

Trump, of course, rose to power by maligning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, which also ran afoul of record-keeping rules.

"The government record retention scorecard between Trump and Clinton is not particularly close at this juncture," tweeted Politico editor Sam Stein.

The National Archives said last week that some of the records it has turned over to the Jan. 6 committee "had been torn up by former President Trump," some of which were taped back together while others "had not been reconstructed by the White House."

Former Trump staffers told the Post last week that the former president's habit of shredding documents was "far more widespread and indiscriminate than previously known." Though the administration tasked an entire team with reconstructing torn up documents to comply with federal law, "it's unclear how many records were lost or permanently destroyed" by Trump, according to the report.

But it wasn't just Trump. Staffers at the National Archives described the flow of destroyed papers from the White House as "unprecedented."

A senior former White House official told the outlet that he and other White House staffers frequently put documents into "burn bags" to be destroyed and would themselves decide what documents would be preserved.

When the Jan. 6 committee requested documents related to Trump's pressure on former Vice President Mike Pence ahead of Jan. 6, some of the files were unavailable because they had been destroyed, according to the report.

"He didn't want a record of anything," a former senior Trump official told the Post. "He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the records act? Come on."

Read more on the ex-president and the Jan. 6 aftermath:

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's Deputy News and Politics Editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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Aggregation Capitol Riot Donald Trump Kim Jong-un Mar-a-lago Politics Presidential Records Act