The Archivist’s Obsession

The National Archives has 13 billion pages in its files. What is amazing is how the acting U. S. archivist, Debra Wall, was able to determine that 700 really important pieces of paper were missing and in the home of former President Trump in Florida. That’s impressive record keeping.

The New York Times story this week about the 700 pages of classified documents and a May 10 letter from Ms. Wall to one of Trump’s attorneys about the papers raised a lot of questions in my mind.

Were the documents housed in the National Archives and requested by the president? Like a lending library? Or were they in his office originally and Ms. Wall assumed there were more she needed for her files?

If they were borrowed for some reason, was there a date stamp on when they needed to be returned? If there was, you can understand why a trained librarian would want them returned. They’re fussy about those things. If the documents were generated by the president and his administration and hadn’t made it to the National Archives yet, how did Ms. Wall know what was missing?

I can see the gray-haired woman sitting in her office thinking – obsessing – about the documents that were being carried out of the White House on the last day of Trump’s presidency and loaded into a waiting helicopter. Her archival senses must have been on high alert.

I know how those people are. I saw the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure. I’m just wondering why there wasn’t an outcry when Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up the president’s state of the union speech after he finished delivering it. Wasn’t that unauthorized destruction of an important national document?

And why did he want all that governmental paperwork? Was this part of his bedtime reading? There were media reports that the former president wasn’t into details while he was in office and didn’t even read his daily intelligence briefings, preferring instead the “big picture.” Now we’re expected to believe he was fanatical about hoarding thousands of pages of presidential documents. He already “returned” 15 boxes in February. Maybe the archivist thought he was planning to auction the rest off on eBay.

At one point, someone in the media implied that the president might have taken the nuclear codes with him. If he did, they would have been useless. I checked and those codes are changed daily. Thank heavens. Apparently, Bill Clinton misplaced them for months and kept everyone from finding out – if we believe that’s even possible. Or perhaps it’s Clinton lore.

I’ve worked for two CEOs during my career. When they retired, I’m guessing they took nothing with them except for a few mementoes – their pensions and stock options being the only paperwork that really mattered.

Should Trump turn over his letters from the Kim Jong-un and outgoing president Barack Obama? It doesn’t seem right to snatch those from him. And what qualifies something as classified? Just because some bureaucrat deemed it so on a Tuesday, it’s difficult for me to believe it could be relevant information two years after Trump has left the White House.

And since half the country seems to think that Trump was an illegitimate and horrible president, why does anyone really care about his papers anyway?

I’m waiting for some bright reporter to explain the process and tell us what’s really going on. Is this a power grab…a witch hunt…another way of trying to make Trump look bad…an attempt to detract from inflation and high prices heading into the midterm elections? Or are there valid reasons for keeping every little scrap of paper from a presidential term? Should some future historian — trying to make a buck on a presidential book — have access to everything that was going on at the time? Maybe so.

So many questions, and, as usual, too few answers.


Speaking of questions…for all of you wondering when my new book is coming out, I’m hoping to have it published before the end of the year. It’s called Deadly Winds and opens with the church bell falling on a member of the congregation who has opposed an expensive renovation project. Our heroine, Leslie Elliott, sets out to discover if it really was a freak accident, as many are claiming, or if there was something more behind the poor woman’s death.

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