FBI agents raided Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home Monday reportedly looking for boxes of classified material that Trump allegedly removed from the White House when his presidency ended in January 2021. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the raid showed the Justice Department’s “intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”
Trump is accused of violating the Presidential Records Act. Congress enacted this law in 1978 after former President Richard Nixon claimed his secret Oval Office tapes and other records were his personal property. The law asserted, “The United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of Presidential records.”
“The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” Archivist of the United States David Ferriero declared earlier this year.
In reality, the Presidential Records Act is the Presidential Damn-Near-Perpetual-Secrecy Act. Former presidents pocket multimillion-dollar advances for their memoirs while their records are mostly quarantined for decades from the citizens they often misgoverned.
The Nixon Library did not release the final batch of his secret tapes until 2013 — 39 years after Nixon was driven from office. The Lyndon B. Johnson Library delayed releasing the final batch of his secret tapes of presidential conversations until 2016 — 47 years after he left office.
President George W. Bush in 2001 issued an executive order that “effectively rewrote the Presidential Records Act, converting it from a measure guaranteeing public access to one that blocks it,” as law professor Jonathan Turley noted. Congress overturned parts of that order in 2014.
Obama White House lawyers repeatedly invoked the Presidential Records Act to “delay the release of thousands of pages of records from President Bill Clinton’s White House,” Politico reported. At the end of his presidency, Barack Obama trucked 30 million pages of his administration’s records to Chicago, promising to digitize them and eventually put them online — a move that outraged historians.
More than five years after Obama’s presidency ended, the National Archives webpage reveals that zero pages have been digitized and disclosed. People can file requests via the Freedom of Information Act (a law Obama helped wreck) to access Obama records, but responses from presidential libraries can be delayed for years, even more than a decade, if the information is classified.
Similarly, President Joe Biden double-crossed Americans on disclosing records from his 36-year Senate career. In 2011, Biden donated 1,875 boxes of documents from his Senate days to the University of Delaware, which received federal subsidies to curate the collection while it was locked up. Biden and the university library promised to unseal the records “two years after Biden retires from public office.” Biden retired as vice president in January 2017. But the library announced just before Biden launched his presidential campaign that secrecy would continue until two years after Biden “retires from public life.”
The FBI raid was also purportedly justified because Trump possessed classified documents. Classification is one of DC’s biggest con games. A federal commission headed by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan lamented in 1997, “Secrets in the federal government are whatever anyone with a stamp decides to stamp secret.” Yet any information that is classified is treated as a political holy relic that cannot be exposed without cursing the nation.
The federal government creates trillions of pages of new secrets every year, the vast majority of which should never have been classified. Even Biden’s director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, lamented to Congress that this excessive secrecy of federal documents “erodes the basic trust that our citizens have in their government.” Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for the iron curtain that now shrouds dozens of federal agencies.
Did the FBI conduct a massive, heavily armed raid on a former president’s home merely because of paperwork violations? Is the FBI too busy crusading against Trump’s paperwork errors to drop the hammer on the cavalcade of crimes documented on Hunter Biden’s Laptop from Hell?
Unless the feds can quickly reveal proof of far more serious Trump crimes, Monday’s raid was one of the most prominent outrages in recent law-enforcement history. Even New York’s former Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned, “DOJ must immediately explain the reason for its raid & it must be more than a search for inconsequential archives or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigation.”
James Bovard is the author of 10 books and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.