Nobody Knows How Many Obama-Era Presidential Records Are Missing
If those millions of documents are lost, America may never understand the truth about who should have been indicted
That did not take long. Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz has forensic tools that FBI senior executives did not bother to use before incorrectly claiming that five months’ worth of text messages between bureau lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok somehow evaporated into thin digital air.
Here’s another issue: Should anyone have confidence that all official presidential records created or received during the historic tenure of Barack H. Obama in the Oval Office are actually stored securely and fully preserved, pending completion of the Obama Presidential Library, which at present remains stuck in planning stages?
The National Archivist, an Obama-appointed holdover named David S. Ferriero who was appointed Nov. 6, 2009, has his work cut out for him. There are already dozens of serious questions swirling about missing Obama records, so endless controversies loom.
How many senior people in the Obama White House used personal or alias email accounts or private servers, as did former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her inner circle? At least one member of Obama’s cabinet — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson — used the fake name “Richard Windsor” in hundreds of emails while conducting official government business.
Is it plausible that Lois Lerner and her IRS emails actually vanished, that so few emails from Clinton’s years at Foggy Bottom intersected with Clinton Foundation matters, or that no emails concerning these and related subjects ended up in the Obama White House?
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 defines “Presidential Records” as including: “All books, correspondence, memoranda, documents, papers, pamphlets, works of art, models, pictures, photographs, plats, maps, films, and motion pictures, including, but not limited to, audio and visual records, or other electronic or mechanical recordations, whether in analog, digital, or any other form.”
Drafted before widespread use of the internet, the 1978 law should fairly be read to include, as a minimum, all emails and text messages created or received by Obama, the White House staff and all of his political appointees throughout the executive branch in the performance of their official duties, regardless of whether done using government or private communication devices.
From Jan. 20, 2009, through Jan. 20, 2017, Obama was required to “take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the president’s constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are preserved and maintained as presidential records pursuant to the requirements of this section and other provisions of law.”
From Jan. 20, 2017, forward, Ferriero was required to “assume responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of, and access to, the presidential records of that president. The archivist shall have an affirmative duty to make such records available to the public as rapidly and completely as possible.”
How will Ferriero, or his successor eventually appointed by President Donald Trump, satisfy these strict statutory requirements to guard all items due to be transferred to whatever repository will ultimately hold the Obama presidency’s official records?
According to Clinton’s telling, no classified electronic transmissions occurred using her home-brew private servers or unsecured electronic devices. The private server was located in the Clinton’s Chappaqua, New York, mansion.
If that is true, then all electronic communications sent by Clinton to Obama are likely presidential records that should be available to the public. How many were sent by Obama to Clinton? Might that suggest she wasn’t indicted because if she was, then wouldn’t Obama also be? Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy makes a persuasive case for that possibility.
And if classified electronic transmissions occurred between Clinton and Obama, then the former president or his top aides should have noticed attendant troubles, and swiftly attempted to deal with them as relevant laws provide. That makes how many of them accessories?
What will all relevant presidential records reveal, should all come to light? I wonder just how hard it will be to reassemble the Obama-era presidential records, especially including electronic media, and then open these for public scrutiny, as the law requires.
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has a gargantuan “missing records” problem in his oversight role over the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA), where the National Archivist labors.
At least IG Horowitz moves swiftly and effectively, so let’s hope he has time helping to preserve all Obama-era presidential records, in addition to his other duties.
Charles Ortel, a retired investment banker, concentrates on exposing complex frauds in his new career as an investigator, writer and commentator. Since August 2017, he has been hosting the “Sunday with Charles” podcast and covering the Clinton Foundation case in depth, using publicly available source materials.