During a recent search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the FBI recovered documents that were labeled “top secret,” the Associated Press reported on Aug. 12.
The Washington Post reported that the FBI searched the home to look for “documents related to nuclear weapons,” among other items.
In response to the search, Trump claimed in a statement that has since been deleted that former President Barack Obama “kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified.”
A VERIFY reader also sent us a screenshot of another Trump statement where he claimed that 30 million pages of records were taken to Chicago under promises to “digitize them and put them online,” but “zero pages have been digitized and disclosed.”
Did former President Barack Obama keep 33 million pages of his administration’s records?
No, former President Barack Obama did not keep 33 million pages of his administration’s records.
WHAT WE FOUND
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) debunked Trump’s claims in a statement on Aug. 12, writing that it “assumed exclusive legal and physical custody” of Obama’s presidential records when he left office in 2017, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act (PRA).
“NARA moved approximately 30 million pages of unclassified records to a NARA facility in the Chicago area where they are maintained exclusively by NARA. Additionally, NARA maintains the classified Obama Presidential records in a NARA facility in the Washington, DC, area,” the statement reads. “As required by the PRA, former President Obama has no control over where and how NARA stores the Presidential records of his Administration.”
In previous statements, the NARA also detailed efforts to acquire Trump’s presidential records.
The agency said in February 2022 that it had “obtained the cooperation of Trump representatives” to locate records that hadn’t been transferred to the National Archives at the end of Trump’s administration.
The PRA, which was passed in 1978, “states that presidential records are property of the United States,” according to a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Before the act was passed, administration records were the president’s private property.
The definition of presidential records in the PRA does exclude a president’s personal records, defined as “documents of a purely private or nonpublic character,” the CRS report says.
A website devoted to the Barack Obama Presidential Library, maintained by the National Archives, also provides more information about the preservation of the Obama administration’s records.
In May 2017, the Obama Foundation decided not to construct a Presidential Library to house paper records and physical artifacts. Instead, the Foundation sought to provide funding for the digitization of records so they’d be available online.
“While the vast majority of the material transferred into the custody of the National Archives from the Obama administration was ‘born digital’ (the 300 million emails are equivalent to over one billion pages), the 30 million pages of paper records are an integral part of the collection,” the website says.
Following digitization, which is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NARA will store and preserve the Obama administration’s records in an existing NARA facility. The materials are currently housed in a temporary facility in Illinois that is not open to the public.
Obama’s presidential records did become subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on Jan. 20, 2022, so NARA will “process textual records in a traditional manner,” according to the Library’s website.