Neither former President Donald Trump nor President Joe Biden is the first executive accused of improperly storing classified government documents.
Arguments over presidential storage of documents stretch back decades.
In 1978, then-President Jimmy Carter signed the Presidential Records Act — a law that provided the National Archives and Records Administration with proper custody over the records of former presidents.
The documents are, in turn, stored in official presidential libraries.
Carter exempted his own administration from the requirements of the Presidential Records Act — allowing him to keep records from his service as president without regard to their classification, a standard enjoyed by his predecessors. Ronald Reagan was the first president subject to the Presidential Records Act.
Carter couldn’t live up to the standards the law demanded of his successors.
The Democrat discovered classified documents at his home in Plains, Georgia, on at least one occasion after his presidency, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. It cited “a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of classified documents.”
He turned the documents over to the National Archives, even though he wasn’t legally required to do so, the report said.
“It turns out former officials from all levels of government discover they are in possession of classified material and turn them over to the authorities at least several times a year,” the AP reported, citing the same source.
Trump asserts that the documents seized from his possession in a dramatic Department of Justice raid on his Florida residence were declassified. The president has broad powers to declassify government documents.
The material Biden has provided to the Department of Justice mostly stems from his time as a senator and as vice president.
Vice presidents have limited powers to declassify documents, and there’s no reason to believe Biden declassified the material found in his personal office.
Former Vice President Mike Pence discovered classified documents in his possession after the Biden and Trump controversies.
The office of former President Barack Obama declined to comment this week when asked if it was conducting its own search for any mishandled classified material he might have.
The findings have wrought new scrutiny on the handling of documents by former presidents and vice presidents.
The National Archives has noticed. The records agency is asking all former presidents to scour their personal records for classified documents amid the spree of discoveries, according to USA Today.
The Biden administration hasn’t ruled out ordering a review of how former presidents take custody of government documents, the AP reported last week.
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