Remember the day after the US presidential inauguration? OK, we were hungover, too, but do you remember how Trump violated US federal records-keeping laws by illegally deleting his tweets? Turns out, the National Archives also heard about that and took action.
David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, recently replied to a letter from Senators Claire McCaskill and Tom Carper regarding the Trump White House’s shoddy record-keeping practices. Among other things, the senators asked about the administration’s use of encrypted messaging apps (namely, Confide), private email addresses, unsecured smartphones and Twitter. Ferriero basically replied by saying that the White House has been briefed on how to abide by the Presidential Records Act as well as the Federal Records Act. But the archivist also admits that the US president can do whatever he wants, to a degree.
The Twitter issue stands out as particularly troubling collision of influence and recklessness. The National Archives can’t explicitly order the president not to delete his tweets. Ferriero told the senators that “under the PRA, records management authority is vested in the president, and NARA does not make ‘determinations’ with respect to whether something is or is not a Presidential record”. However, the National Archives did advise the Trump administration to “capture and preserve all tweets that the President posts… including those that are subsequently deleted”. Trump White House officials said that they were already doing that, which, could be a complete lie. (The Trump White House lies a lot.)
The archivist’s response went on to address the questions about Trump’s use of an unsecured phone, private email and encrypted messaging apps. Unfortunately for America, the answers are all pretty limp. Regarding the unsecured phone, Ferriero said, “NARA has not provided or been asked to provide guidance to any ‘federal agency’ regarding methods to ensure that President Trump’s communications made through his personal smartphone are preserved.” In other words, Trump might be using an unsecured smartphone, but there’s nothing the National Archives can do about it — ditto for Congress, which can only offer recommendations about how the president uses dangerous technology.
The National Archives meanwhile says that it’s advised the White House on the use of encrypted messaging apps and the records-keeping nightmare they create. Ferriero says that the archives have not advised the White House staff on the use of private email, although even if it had, staffers would probably keep using their semi-secret RNC email addresses anyways. After all, government workers who are paranoid about getting caught breaking the law will sometimes break the law in order to cover their tracks.
In conclusion, Trump’s probably not going to get impeached over his irresponsible use of technology. This whole Russia hacking situation, however, does not look good for the US president. It doesn’t matter how much the president and his administration try to distract people from the issue with baseless claims of Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. That problem can’t be solved with a halfhearted letter.