Former President Trump recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the legal dispute over classified documents seized during an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
In response to the search, Trump falsely claimed in August 2022 that Obama “kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified.”
More recently, at a rally in Minden, Nevada, on Oct. 8, Trump claimed that another former president took documents and stored them at a rather unexpected location.
“George H.W. Bush took millions of documents to a former bowling alley and a former Chinese restaurant where they combined them,” Trump said during the rally. “So they’re in a bowling alley slash Chinese restaurant. By contrast, I had a small number of boxes and storage at Mar-a-Lago, very small, relatively guarded by the great Secret Service.”
A clip of Trump’s comments shared in a tweet by C-SPAN’s communications director on Oct. 9 has received 3.8 million views and thousands of shares.
Did former President George H.W. Bush take presidential documents to a former bowling alley and Chinese restaurant?
- The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- The Presidential Records Act
- Interview with David Alsobrook, former director of the Bush Presidential Materials Project, in the book “A Noble Calling: Character and the George H.W. Bush Presidency”
- Washington Post reporting from 1993
Trump’s claim about Bush taking documents after he left office is false; they were in the possession of the National Archives.
But President Bush’s documents were temporarily stored at a former bowling alley and Chinese restaurant in Texas while the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library was under construction.
WHAT WE FOUND
There are two parts to Trump’s claim. The first is that Bush took millions of presidential documents and the second is that they were stored in a building that formerly housed a bowling alley and Chinese restaurant.
Let’s start with the first. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) said in a statement on Oct. 11 that presidential records were never in Bush’s possession after he left office.
In fact, the Presidential Records Act says that when a president leaves office, the National Archives “shall assume responsibility for custody, control and preservation of, and access to” presidential records immediately at the end of the term.
“The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, assumed physical and legal custody of the Presidential records from the administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, when those Presidents left office,” NARA said in the Oct. 11 statement.
NARA “securely moved these records to temporary facilities” that it leased by the General Services Administration (GSA), an independent U.S. government agency that manages federal property and provides contracting options for government agencies. These temporary facilities “met strict archival and security standards, and have been managed and staffed exclusively by NARA employees,” the federal agency said.
“Reports that indicate or imply that those Presidential records were in the possession of the former Presidents or their representatives, after they left office, or that the records were housed in substandard conditions, are false and misleading,” NARA said.
Trump’s claim about Bush taking documents after he left office is false; they were in the possession of the National Archives. The boxes of records at Mar-a-Lago, which Trump referenced in his comments, were not under the control of the National Archives.
More from VERIFY: Yes, the president can declassify documents, but there isn’t a set protocol they have to follow
The second part of Trump’s claim about where Bush’s documents were stored is true. The records, while under the possession of NARA, were temporarily housed at a former bowling alley and Chinese restaurant in Texas while the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library was under construction.
“The George Bush Presidential Library journey began in 1993 when the National Archives opened a temporary site at a former bowling alley in Chimney Hill. We stayed there until we opened this beautiful library on November 6, 1997,” NARA said in a statement on the library’s 20th anniversary.
David Alsobrook, who worked as an archivist for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and served as director of the Bush Presidential Materials Project, addressed the records’ temporary home in an interview for the book “A Noble Calling: Character and the George H.W. Bush Presidency.”
“So I think it’s a building that’s going to be very spacious, very utilitarian; and after living in a bowling alley for the last four years, I can tell you this: Our staff is really looking forward to moving into a new building,” Alsobrook said of the library’s opening.
He added, “In reality, part of our facility used to be a Chinese restaurant, too. I’ve told reporters this for the last four years: It’s not just a bowling alley; it’s a bowling alley and a Chinese restaurant. So I wanted to be sure to point that out.”
The former bowling alley didn’t look like one when archivists moved in, The Washington Post reported in 1993. It was remodeled to include a few offices, a massive, fire-resistant vault and steel shelves filled with cardboard boxes and wooden crates.
This situation isn’t unusual, either. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2016 that Obama administration records were shipped to a former furniture store leased by the GSA and temporarily stored there by NARA while Obama’s presidential library was under construction.
More from VERIFY: No, Obama did not keep 33 million pages of his administration’s records