WASHINGTON—Following reports that the outgoing Trump administration is destroying presidential records and ignoring the law when using non-official electronic devices to conduct official business, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Thursday introduced the Promoting Accountability and Security in Transition (PAST) Act, to clarify and enhance existing law with regards to presidential transition and presidential records. Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05) introduced the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It’s been over a month since Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election, and President Trump still has yet to concede. Even more troubling are reports that his administration is destroying presidential records and refusing to share national security information with the transition,” said Murphy. “The American people see that the process is broken and that it is time for reform. Our legislation clarifies and enhances existing laws related to presidential transitions and presidential records by putting in safeguards and transparency to ensure the paper trail that documents the actions taken by this and future administrations cannot be swept under the rug with impunity. It also establishes real consequences for the destruction of Presidential Records for the first time. This should be a no-brainer for Republicans and Democrats who care about our country’s national security and the peaceful transfer of power to support.”
“This bill ensures that all presidential records are documented, archived, and preserved for the historical record,” said Quigley, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. “It is imperative that we push for commonsense legislation like this to hold elected officials accountable for what they do and say, including on social media platforms. This is about building more government accountability and transparency not only for the outgoing administration but for every administration.”
“This bill goes a long way toward plugging some of the holes in the Presidential Records Act that have placed historically valuable Presidential records at risk. The American public should not have to wait until a President has left office to learn of problems with that President’s record keeping practices. This bill addresses that issue by tasking the Archivist and the Office of Administration with yearly inspections that will identify problems while there is still an opportunity to correct them. Just as significantly, the bill ensures that complete copies of electronic messages will be preserved by requiring the preservation of the metadata — the who, what, and when — that is associated with the messages. As someone who has litigated for years over the failure of multiple administrations to comply with their obligations under the Presidential Records Act, I fully and enthusiastically endorse this bill, which protects our nation’s history and our ability to learn from the past,” said Anne Weismann, Founder and Executive Director, Campaign for Accountability, and former Chief Counsel and Chief FOIA Counsel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
“At a time when the nation’s presidential records are in a state of unprecedented uncertainty during the Trump-Biden transition, Senator Murphy’s PAST Act of 2020 is a timely bill that will provide stronger Congressional oversight of the White House’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act. We applaud Senator Murphy’s leadership in protecting the public’s right to know by requiring both the White House and the Archivist to prioritize proper preservation of presidential records,” said Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open The Government.
“The Promoting Accountability and Security in Transitions Act of 2020 is an important and timely bill that will put in place strong requirements to ensure that the records, including digital communications, of every President are accounted for and properly secured as the property of the American public. The second key provision in the legislation, amending the Presidential Transition Act, will ensure that the President-elect and members of office staff designated by the President-elect will receive access to, at a minimum, summaries of national security information (including documents, videos, audio, and briefings) created by the previous administration in as soon as possible after the date of the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President,” said Patrice McDermott, Director, Government Information Watch.
Other endorsements can be found here.
Specifically, Promoting Accountability and Security in Transition Act includes three parts:
1. Presidential Records Act, which:
· Requires the President to receive written guidance from the Archivist before destroying any records and make this guidance publicly available;
· Requires the Archivist to inspect White House records management, training, and standard operating procedures on a biannual basis;
· Allows judicial review of access restrictions to Presidential Records and allows a Congressional Committee Ranking Members to request exemptions to access restrictions after a President’s term in office;
· Requires the Archivist to provide regulations for documenting records created on non-official electronic messaging accounts (e.g. WhatsApp), preserving social media messaging (e.g. Twitter), and narrow exemptions for using applications with automatic deleting functionalities (e.g. Signal, Confide); and
· Requires the President to prohibit White House staff from using non-official electronic messaging accounts that cannot be easily copied or forwarded to official accounts and all messaging accounts with automatic deleting functionalities.
2. Presidential Compensation and Libraries, which:
· Establishes consequences for former Presidents that destroy Presidential records, including restricting post-presidency salary and staff, prohibiting public funding for Presidential Library construction, and preventing presidential records from being entrusted to a Presidential Library or Museum regardless of whether public funds were used for construction; and
· Requires former Presidents to cover the entire cost of digitizing records for display in a Presidential Library.
3. Presidential Transitions Act, which:
· Ensures president-elects receive comprehensive and timely briefings on vital national security information during a transition;
· Requires the General Services Administrator to independently ascertain the President-elect within six calendar days of an election and provide sources to any plausible winning candidates to support continuity of government; and
· During a transition, requires the Archivist to work with the Federal Transition Coordination to monitor records preservation compliance and report any compliance issues to Congress.