All presidents since Reagan mishandled classified memos, Trump first referred to DOJ, Archives says

Every president since Ronald Reagan has mishandled classified documents, according to NARA officials.

Published: May 19, 2023 11:18pm

Prior to former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department had not been involved in enforcing the Presidential Records Act, according to testimony from a National Archives and Records Administration official. 

On Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee released a transcript from an interview in March with NARA officials in which the agency's chief operating officer, William Bosanko, testified that the agency had "found classified information in unclassified boxes" for all the presidential administrations "from Reagan forward."

He also said the boxes of materials were in NARA's custody at the time the agency made the discovery.

However, Bosanko, who said he has “worked at the National Archives for more than 30 years,” also said he was not aware that the DOJ had any involvement with enforcing the Presidential Records Act prior to Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden, all of whom were recently found to have classified document in their possession. 

In response to House Delegate Stacey E. Plaskett’s (D-U.S. Virgin Islands) question about DOJ providing guidance to new presidential administrations for following the Presidential Records Act, Bosanko said he was “not aware of DOJ” being involved. 

“And then with no DOJ involvement in that, the next time that the Department of Justice would be involved is at the end, if necessary, if there is a referral from an inspector general, et cetera, to do an investigation or to enforce conditions of the Presidential Records Act, correct?” Plaskett asked Bosanko. 

“Correct,” he responded. “I am not aware of any other instance where the Department of Justice has gotten involved in this.” 

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asked Bosanko whether there had ever been another case in which he had – "for any reason" – had referred any previous president or vice president to the agency's inspector general.

“Prior to the three instances that have just happened? No,” he replied. 

Former National Security Council Senior Director Kash Patel told Just the News on Friday: "NARA’s lack of referrals until the Trump presidency demonstrates that equal application under the law does not apply to President Trump and those who served in his administration. The two-tier system of justice that we are seeing in this country has corrupted even our chief librarian."

Information Security Oversight Office Director Mark Bradley testified before the committee about other former government officials leaving office with classified documents, saying, "Since about 2010, we have gotten over 80 calls from different libraries where mostly members of Congress have taken papers and deposited them in libraries for collections, their own papers." 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner said in response: "Testimony from the National Archives and Records Administration officials makes clear that the handling and mishandling of classified documents are a problem that stretches beyond the Oval Office."

"This is a systemic problem that dates to the Reagan Administration. We need a better way for elected officials who are leaving office – in both the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch – to properly return classified material and protect the integrity of our national security."

The transcript's release comes as Trump and Biden face special counsel investigations for their alleged mishandling of classified materials, Biden's in connection to when he was a vice president.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed Special Counsels Jack Smith and Robert Hur to investigate Trump and Biden, respectively. 

The FBI raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in August of 2022 and removed his administration materials that he had in storage. Biden came out forcefully against Trump's handling of the materials, calling him "totally irresponsible."

Later, classified documents were discovered at Biden’s former office and Delaware home. 

Pence also found classified materials at his home after conducting his own search. The former vice president also coordinated with the FBI to search his home, where they found an additional classified document. 

DOJ and NARA didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

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