03:32 GMT03 March 2021
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    Following the defeat of Donald Trump in the November 2020 US presidential election, Joe Biden and a new Democratic administration will take over the White House on 20 January. Historians, however, are concerned that the outgoing president's reported habit of routinely destroying official documents will leave a hole in the historical record.

    Historians are concerned about the preservation of White House history due to the Trump administration's reported habit of destroying documentation and the president's tendency to tear up papers, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Saturday.

    Speaking to AP, Richard Immerman at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, said that "not only has record-keeping not been a priority, but we have multiple examples of it seeking to conceal or destroy that record".

    It is customary for an outgoing president to hand over official documents to the successor administration, but according to several reports this transfer has become problematic due to the Trump White House destruction of records.

    The president is also alleged to be prone to destroying documents and throwing them into the trash or on the floor, Politico first reported in 2018.

    Due to Trump's purported inclination to tear up official presidential papers, aides spent hours taping documents back together before delivering them to the National Archives to be appropriately filed.

    Records staff and historians now fear that they will have to carry out a similar work, with one person telling Fortune that they are "petrified" by the encroaching job they have ahead.

    "The inattention of this administration to legal requirements [about preserving records] is unprecedented. I'm pessimistic we'll get many documents", said Immerman, a Temple University professor and author of several presidential biographies.

    In addition, the transfer of documents to the National Archives and Records has been delayed due to Trump's continuing refusal to concede the 2020 election, which presents further problems as the process must legally be finalised by 20 January.

    Filed Lawsuits?

    The Presidential Records Act stipulates that the ruling administration is required to preserve all emails, memos, letters, and papers that the president touches, and sets aside that the commander in chief may not destroy these records without the national archivist's advice and informing Congress.

    Multiple historical groups sued the Trump White House in December 2020 regarding the Trump administration's destructive actions.

    "I believe we will find that there's going to be a huge hole in the historical record of this president because I think there's probably been serious noncompliance of the Presidential Records Act", said Anne Weismann, one of the group's legal representatives, cited by AP. "I don't think President Trump cares about his record and what it says. I think he probably cares, though, about what it might say about his criminal culpability".

    Turning a New Page

    While it is possible for the incoming Biden administration to request access to Trump's records, Freedom of Information requests will result in the documents remaining hidden from the public eye for five years. 

    Meticulous stockpiling of an administration's paper and electronic records are considered essential to aid successive presidents to formulate new policies and prevent repeated errors.

    "Presidential records tell our nation's story from a unique perspective and are essential to an incoming administration in making informed decisions", stated Lee White, director of the National Coalition for History, to AP. "They are equally vital to historians".

    AP reported that former US President Barack Obama left some 30 million pages of paper documents, as well as an estimated 250 terabytes of electronic records which contained a reported 1.5 billion pages of emails.

    Tags:
    White House, history, Joe Biden, Donald Trump
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