About those Obama classified records in the Chicago-area furniture warehouse...
It almost sounds like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie: a dusty warehouse. The smell of must permeating the air. The only sound the scurrying of the occasional rat. And entombed within it, thousands of boxes upon boxes, practically stamped “TOP SECRET.”
But this is no flight of Hollywood fantasy. It is the reality of what remains of the Barack Obama presidency: Twenty truckloads of crates, kept in a space that formerly housed the inventory of Plunkett Furniture, containing roughly thirty million documents generated during the eight years of Obama’s time in the Oval Office.
And to the best of anyone’s public knowledge, it may still be sitting there, uncatalogued and unscanned for future perusal. It's composed in part, it can be assumed, of classified files.
That is the conclusion being made following a letter from the Obama Foundation to the National Archive and Records Administration that has recently come to light. According to the letter, at least up until 2018, the Obama-era documents -- all of them -- were being stored in the warehouse at Hoffman Estates. The letter clearly states that classified papers were included alongside the unclassified files.
From the letter: “The Obama Foundation agrees to transfer up to three million three hundred thousand dollars ($3,300,000) to the National Archives Trust Fund (NATF) to support the move of classified and unclassified Obama Presidential records and artifacts from Hoffman Estates to NARA-controlled facilities that conform to the agency’s archival storage standards for such records and artifacts, and for the modification of such spaces. The first transfer of $300,000 was already made on August 9, 2018. An additional interim transfer will be made within 180 days of that date. Subsequent payments are subject to the negotiation of terms of the digitization process and museum operations.”
It is now also being reported by the Daily Herald that the Obama Foundation has extended its lease of the warehouse through 2026.
So for at least a year beyond his presidency, Barack Obama, through his foundation, held classified records, with the possibility that such material is still in storage. And, he may be doing so with the full knowledge of the National Archives.
In addition to addressing the storage of Obama-era documents, the letter conveys that NARA “agrees to loan Obama Presidential records and artifacts and other NARA holdings, including but not limited to textual records, physical artifacts, and audio-video materials such as archival footage, sound recordings, and high resolution digital assets, to the Obama Foundation on an ongoing basis at the Obama Presidential Center… and to work with the Foundation in doing so.”
It seems that the National Archives has given the stamp of approval to the Obama Foundation holding onto documents and other flotsam and jetsam of the Obama years. This would include, it is concluded, possession over previously classified material.
According to the National Archives, by law every former president must maintain a repository of his – or her – papers, for the sake of scholarly research. It is unreasonable to believe that any former president will not have access to documents from his or her administration, if that president has anything to do with the planning of the future library. It could be that some documents are planned for public display. Ronald Reagan’s presidential library has video of the fortieth president apologizing for Iran-Contra. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library may have beaten them all: it has the eighteen minutes of silence for one’s “listening” pleasure.
If Barack Obama held onto classified information following his presidency, and if the National Archives was in approval of this, then the benefit of the doubt must be extended to Donald Trump and his holding of documents during the year and a half after his own term of office ended. Mr. Trump has claimed that the documents in his possession were declassified. Even if that is so, the documents still belong to the National Archives.
The question that arises is: What was the purpose of having the documents at Mar-a-Lago? It could be that they were indeed required for preparation of the future Donald Trump Presidential Library (an edifice the prospects of which must certainly make Hillary Clinton writhe with envy).
But Mr. Trump was apparently still regarding the documents as sensitive material, given that by all accounts the files were being kept under strictest lock and key within Mar-a-Lago. During an inspection in June, agents of the Department of Justice raised some concern about the security of the stored documents at Mar-a-Lago. They did not, however, demand that he immediately return them to the National Archives. Trump assured the DOJ that there would be added measures taken to ensure the integrity of the files.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had agents accompanying the Department of Justice personnel who inspected the storage facilities at Mar-a-Lago three months ago. Several weeks before the August raid, they had not only given their approval of the documents’ presence, but offered sound advice about how to further protect them. And it seems that Mr. Trump obliged them in this.
Mar-a-Lago is arguably the most secure home of a former United States president in the history of anything. This is no mere Monticello or Hermitage that Donald Trump retired to after his term. The Secret Service protection comes in addition to Mr. Trump’s private security. Any documents that Trump had in his possession were arguably safer than any National Archive location. They were certainly safer than in Plunkett’s old abode.
If it suffices that the storage of the Obama materials in an old furniture warehouse passed rigorous scrutiny with the National Archives, then we must also be prepared to accept that the documents in Trump’s possession -- unclassified or not -- were just as cleared by the federal government. As it is, Mr. Trump has stated that he declassified the files.
Which makes the Federal Bureau of Investigation raid, and the Department of Justice investigation, all the more ridiculous.
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