Justice Department tells court Trump can destroy records

In the complaint filed earlier this year by CREW, the watchdog group cited the Presidential Records Act as cause for their suit. The overall reason for the suit was to challenge how Trump and staffers engage in secretive communications practices:

“In a complaint filed in June, the watchdog group cited the Presidential Records Act and challenged the way Trump and staffers “seek to evade transparency and government accountability” by the alleged use of certain communications practices and by a consolidation of power that allegedly results in records being shielded by other disclosure laws like the Freedom of Information Act. In particular, CREW nodded to news reports that White House staffers were using Signal to send encrypted, disappearing messages as well as resorting to the secret chat app — Confide — to duck any record preservation. Also mentioning Trump’s famous tweet implying a taped conversation with former FBI Director James Comey and the president’s repeated deletion of social media messages, the plaintiff is asking for injunctive relief compelling Trump and his staff to comply with duties under the Presidential Records Act.”

In response, Trump’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss based on the argument that “courts cannot review the President’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act,” which directs a sitting President to take steps necessary to ensure that executive branch decision making and communications are properly documented and maintained.
According to a famous law review article by Carl Bretscher, the Presidential Records Act was passed in 1978 “to prevent a repeat of Watergate’s legal drama surrounding ownership of presidential records.”

It is believed that Trump’s concerns are focused on the allegations directed at his use of Twitter. This will be the first time that the Trump Administration has addressed whether deleting tweets is a violation of law.

According to the brief (read here in full),

“Plaintiffs’ thirty-eight-page complaint also includes a number of other allegations that do not support any particular claim for relief, including that ‘[p]residential statements made on Twitter sent from the President’s personal Twitter account…have been destroyed,’ that the President might be deleting tape recordings of conversations with administration officials, and that White House aides might ‘purge’ their phones of ‘potentially compromising information’ in response to FBI and congressional investigations, Even if Plaintiffs had included claims for relief that are based on these allegations, review would be unavailable for all the reasons set out with respect to the claims for relief that they have actually pleaded.”