Mar-a-Lago raid: What is the Presidential Records Act?

The FBI executed a search warrant Monday at the Mar-a-Lago estate of former President Donald Trump, apparently as part of an investigation into the alleged mishandling of White House records.

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Trump announced on social media that FBI agents raided his Florida estate and broke into his safe in what his son, Eric, acknowledged was part of an investigation into Trump’s removal of official presidential records from the White House.

Officials from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) notified Congress in February they had retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago that included some classified materials, and believed there could be more materials remaining at the resort.

As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Justice has not commented on what issues, if any, the documents seized are related to.

What the former president’s son and some media outlets have reported is that the raid is connected to the alleged mishandling of classified documents under the Presidential Records Act.

What is the Presidential Records Act and what are presidents required to do? Here’s a look at the law.

What is the Presidential Records Act?

The law, passed in 1978, requires the president and the vice president to preserve White House documents as the property of the U.S. government.

What does the act include? It:

· Establishes that the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records lies with the president.

· Requires that the president and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from presidential records.

· Allows the incumbent president to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once the views of the archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal have been obtained in writing.

· Establishes in law that any incumbent presidential records (whether textual or electronic) held on courtesy storage by the archivist remain in the exclusive legal custody of the president and that any request or order for access to such records must be made to the president, not the National Archives.

· Establishes that presidential records automatically transfer into the legal custody of the archivist as soon as the president leaves office.

· Establishes a process by which the president may restrict and the public may obtain access to these records after the president leaves office; specifically, the PRA allows for public access to presidential records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the administration, but allows the president to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to 12 years.

· Codifies the process by which former and incumbent presidents conduct reviews for executive privilege prior to the public release of records by NARA.

· Establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent administrations to obtain “special access” to records from NARA that remain closed to the public, following a privilege review period by the former and incumbent presidents; the procedures governing such special access requests continue to be governed by the relevant provisions of Executive Order 13489.

· Establishes preservation requirements for official business conducted using non-official electronic messaging accounts: any individual creating presidential records must not use non-official electronic messaging accounts unless that individual copies an official account as the message is created or forwards a complete copy of the record to an official messaging account. (A similar provision in the Federal Records Act applies to federal agencies.)

· Prevents an individual who has been convicted of a crime related to the review, retention, removal, or destruction of records, from being given access to any original records.

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