The National Archives is formally asking former presidents and vice presidents to re-check their personal records for any classified documents or other presidential records in the wake of classified documents discovered in the homes of former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden over the last year.
The Archives sent a letter Thursday to representatives of former presidents and vice presidents from the last six presidential administrations covered by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) – from former President Ronald Reagan’s White House to the present.
The letter, which was reviewed by CNN, requests that they check their files to ensure that material thought to be personal does not “inadvertently” contain presidential records that are required by law to be turned over to the Archives.
“The responsibility to comply with the PRA does not diminish after the end of an administration,” the letter states. “Therefore, we request that you conduct an assessment of any materials held outside of NARA that relate to the Administration for which you serve as a designated representative under the PRA, to determine whether bodies of materials previously assumed to be personal in nature might inadvertently contain Presidential or Vice Presidential records subject to the PRA, whether classified or unclassified.”
The letter notes that “while much of the attention of these instances has focused on the classified information, the PRA requires that all Presidential records of every Administration from Reagan onward must be transferred to NARA, regardless of classification status.”
The Archives sent the letter to representatives for former Presidents Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and former Vice Presidents Pence, Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle.
Freddy Ford, chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, quickly responded to the letter Thursday: “Thank you for your note. We understand its purpose and remain confident that no such materials are in our possession.”
Representatives for four former presidents have previously told CNN they do not have any classified records in their possession. The representatives for former Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama and the late George H.W. Bush all told CNN that all classified records had been turned over to the National Archives upon leaving office.
No letter to Carter
Former President Jimmy Carter did not receive a letter from the Archives, since he is technically exempt from the Presidential Records ACT. Though Carter signed the PRA into existence, it did not become effective until he left office.
A source familiar with the Archives told CNN that they did not remember Carter finding any stray classified documents.
Quayle confirmed to CNN that everything was turned over to the Archives, and sources familiar with the records of Cheney said he also turned everything over when he left the White House. A spokesperson for Gore said he and his staff turned everything over when leaving the White House and no classified material has been discovered since.
In the most recent case, Pence turned over roughly a dozen classified documents to the FBI, as CNN first reported this week, in what is now the third case of a current or former White House occupants possessing classified material at his home or office. Out of an abundance of caution, Pence also provided four boxes of unclassified material to the National Archives to make sure nothing else in his possession fell under the Presidential Records Act.
Trump had more than 300 classified documents in his possession at his Florida Mar-a-Lago resort, while Biden had ten classified documents at his former private office in Washington. Further batches of classified documents were subsequently found at Biden’s residence in Wilmington, Delaware.
This story has been updated with additional information.