U.S. National Archives’ Statement on the Presidential Records Act Special Access Requests
Recent press stories and social media posts concerning NARA’s actions in relation to the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into materials held by former President Donald J. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago property allege that NARA has been untruthful about our activities. This is not accurate. These allegations confuse NARA’s statutory role in providing access to records under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) with the DOJ investigation and the FBI’s subsequent search of Mar-a-Lago.
NARA routinely makes Presidential records in our legal custody available to all three branches of the federal government via the “special access” provision of the PRA (44 U.S.C. 2205(2)). This provision authorizes Executive branch agencies, such as the Department of Justice, to make requests through the sitting President.
NARA’s core mission is to make records available for access. By providing records under the PRA, NARA does not consider itself to be involved in the work of, or investigations by, the requestors. This stands true whether the requestor is the President, an Executive branch agency, Congress, or a Court (including via grand jury subpoenas).
As NARA publicly disclosed more than seven months ago, NARA provided the FBI with access to the 15 boxes of materials from Mar-a-Lago in accordance with the PRA. As we have stated previously, NARA had no prior knowledge of, or involvement in, the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, which occurred months after NARA first provided the FBI with access to the 15 boxes.
The PRA special access request process for the Mar-a-Lago boxes was described in the May 10, 2022, letter from Acting Archivist of the United States Debra Steidel Wall to Evan Corcoran, one of former President Trump’s PRA representatives, which NARA posted on its website in August 2022. This letter states that the Department of Justice asked “the President to request that NARA provide the FBI with access to the boxes at issue so that the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community could examine them. On April 11, 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office — affirming a request from the Department of Justice supported by an FBI letterhead memorandum — formally transmitted a request that NARA provide the FBI access to the 15 boxes for its review within seven days, with the possibility that the FBI might request copies of specific documents following its review of the boxes.” The Acting Archivist’s letter addressed the privilege issues raised by the representative of President Trump and concluded that: “NARA will provide the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022.”
Records we have released in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about Presidential and Vice-Presidential records are available here:
Records Responsive to Multiple FOIA Requests related to former President Trump’s return of 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago
Records released in response to Presidential Records Act (PRA) questions under the Trump Administration
Records related to the return of Biden Vice-Presidential Records Covered by the Presidential Records Act (PRA)
Records related to Pence Vice-Presidential Records Covered by the Presidential Records Act (PRA)