March 23, 2023

The National Archives is formally asking former presidents and vice presidents from the last six administrations to go through their personal belongings to make sure they’re not in possession of any classified documents.

The letter is the latest in a frenzied news cycle that only began because former President Trump fought tooth and nail for over a year to avoid handing over documents that the National Archives and, later, the Department of Justice suspected were at his property.

In a letter to the representatives of each former presidents and vice president, National Archives reminded them that they are bound under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) to turn all records created or received by the President as part of his constitutional, statutory, or ceremonial duties over to NARA as it is considered the property of the U.S. government.

“The responsibility to comply with the PRA does not diminish after the end of an administration,” the NARA letter read. “Therefore, we request that you conduct an assessment of any materials held outside of NARA that relate to the Administration for which you serve as a designated representative under the PRA, to determine whether bodies of materials previously assumed to be personal in nature might inadvertently contain Presidential or Vice Presidential records subject to the PRA, whether classified or unclassified.”

The agency reached out to representatives for Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Mike Pence, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle, according to CNN.

The representatives for four former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush — told CNN that all classified records had been turned over to the National Archives upon leaving office. Neither indicated they were conducting searches of homes or offices to see if any documents have been missed.

The letter from the National Archives comes shortly after a lawyer for former Vice President Mike Pence found around a dozen classified documents at Pence’s Indiana home last Monday. The lawyer made the discovery after Pence asked him to search his own home out of an abundance of caution following reports that documents were found in President Biden’s home and office.

Both Biden and Pence officials cooperated with the National Archives and the FBI after finding the documents in question. That’s in stark contrast to how former President Donald Trump, who fought throughout 2021 and much of 2022 to avoid handing over documents he knew he had in his possession, handled the situation.

In 2021, Trump and his team were asked to return the documents on multiple occasions. For months Trump refused to give them back which lead to a criminal investigation and subpoenas, once again, asking him to return the documents. After months of back and forth, in August 2022, the FBI raided Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, to retrieve the boxes of records.

Roughly 300 documents with classification markings were recovered from Trump since he left office in 2021. Among those were documents marked as Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, one of the highest classification levels that the government uses.

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