Presidential Records Act

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The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, 44 U.S.C. §§ 22012207, is an Act of the United States Congress governing the official records of Presidents and Vice Presidents created or received after January 20, 1981, and mandating the preservation of all presidential records. Enacted November 4, 1978,[1] the PRA changed the legal ownership of the President's official records from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records. The PRA was amended in 2014, to include the prohibition of sending electronic records through non-official accounts unless an official account is copied on the transmission, or a copy is forwarded to an official account shortly after creation.[2]

Establishment and responsibility[edit]

Specifically, the Presidential Records Act:

  • Defines and states public ownership of the records.
  • Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.
  • Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he or she has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal.
  • Requires that the President and their staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.
  • Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. 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 twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a 30‑day notice period to the former and current Presidents.
  • Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records.

Related Executive Orders[edit]


In June 2018, Politico reported that President Donald Trump frequently and routinely would tear up papers he received, resulting in government officials taping them together for archiving to ensure that Trump did not violate the Presidential Records Act.[6]

In July 2018, Business Insider reported that President Trump gave his personal cellphone number to various world leaders, having unrecorded conversations with them completely without U.S. officials' knowledge.[7]

In July 2018, CNN reported that The White House had suspended the practice of publishing public summaries of President Donald Trump's phone calls with world leaders, bringing an end to a common exercise from previous administrations.[8]

In May 2019, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Security Archive, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration alleging that President Donald Trump and senior advisers such as Jared Kushner were failing to meet their legal obligations under the Presidential Records Act to create and to preserve records of top-level meetings with foreign leaders.[9][10]

In October 2019, an outgoing information security officer warned that with the transfer to the White House Communications Agency, political appointees would be in charge of electronic records.[11]

In December 2020, a group of historians sued (National Security Archive v. Trump, 20-cv-03500, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) the Trump administration over its failure to preserve historical records in violation of the Presidential Records Act. Specifically they claimed that Jared Kushner was in violation of the Act by taking screen shots of his WhatsApp posts that do not include metadata, attachments, or other digital artifacts needed to authenticize the information.[12][13]

Proposed amendments[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chairman's Notebook on Presidential Records Act | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  2. ^ Cummings, Elijah E. (2014-11-26). "H.R.1233 - 113th Congress (2013-2014): Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014". Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  3. ^ Office of the Federal Register (November 1, 2001). "Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act" (PDF). Federal Register. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on November 5, 2001. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  4. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (January 21, 2009). "Executive Order on Presidential Records". UCSB. Santa Barbara, California: University of California. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  5. ^ Office of the Federal Register (January 21, 2009). "Presidential Records" (PDF). Federal Register. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on January 26, 2009. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  6. ^ Karni, Annie. "Meet the guys who tape Trump's papers back together". Politico. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  7. ^ Choi, David. "Trump reportedly gave out his personal cell phone number to world leaders and US officials 'had no idea' he was making calls". Business Insider. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  8. ^ Collins, Kaitlan. "Exclusive: White House stops announcing calls with foreign leaders". CNN. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  9. ^ "CREW: Trump's meetings with Putin, Kim broke the law". UPI. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  10. ^ "Washington Post EDITORIAL: One for the history books A lawsuit demands that Mr. Trump comply with federal law on his records" (PDF). 2019-05-13. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 December 2019. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  11. ^ McCammond (Axios), Alexi. "Cyber memo". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  12. ^ Burnson, Robert (2 December 2020). "Historians Sue to Force Trump Administration to Preserve Records". Bloomberg. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  13. ^ Deb Riechmann (January 17, 2021), "Will Trump's mishandling of records leave a hole in history?",

External links[edit]