The unprecedented FBI raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was ostensibly conducted to retrieve classified documents and other presidential records that purportedly should have been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when Trump left office.
Trump has asserted that everything he possessed at Mar-a-Lago had been previously declassified or were personal records, and a court ruling 10 years ago about audiotapes hidden in former President Bill Clinton’s sock drawer could bolster Trump’s claims in this matter, the Western Journal reported.
The federal judge in that 2012 case ultimately ruled that it is solely in the discretion of the president about which records are “presidential” or “personal,” and the National Archives have no legal authority to demand or seize control of records deemed “personal.”
Clinton’s audiotapes hidden in a sock drawer
In 2007, CBS News reported that author and historian Taylor Branch had revealed that more than 70 audiotapes had been recorded in the White House residence over the course of President Clinton’s tenure in office as a sort of “oral history” that was later used as a basis for Branch’s biographical book titled “Wrestling History: The Bill Clinton Tapes.”
Those audiotapes were stored in Clinton’s sock drawer and taken with him when he left the White House, instead of being turned over to the National Archives, for use in writing his own autobiography.
In 2012, Politico reported that conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch had filed a lawsuit in an effort to force the National Archives to retrieve those audiotapes and designate them as “presidential records” after a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain them had failed.
However, the outlet noted at the time, “U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson said there was no obvious legal mechanism that the Archives could use to force Clinton to turn over the recordings. She also said it wouldn’t be legally proper for her to issue such an order in any event since the Archives has discretion about when to assert the government’s rights under the Presidential Records Act.”
The 2012 court ruling
Just the News reported that the 2012 ruling from Judge Amy Berman Jackson on the Clinton audiotapes, which was never appealed, is potentially quite significant in terms of the recent FBI raid on Trump’s residence to recover supposed presidential records.
“Under the statutory scheme established by the PRA, the decision to segregate personal materials from Presidential records is made by the President, during the President’s term, and in his sole discretion,” Judge Jackson wrote in the 27-page ruling.
She added, “Since the President is completely entrusted with the management and even the disposal of Presidential records during his time in office, it would be difficult for this Court to conclude that Congress intended that he would have less authority to do what he pleases with what he considers to be his personal records.”
Records belong to Trump and must be returned to him
According to the 2012 Politico article, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton expressed his respectful disagreement with the court’s conclusion that nothing could be legally done to retrieve and redesignate the Clinton audiotapes but, perhaps unsurprisingly, or merely out of belated acceptance of that ruling, Fitton now sees things differently as applied to the current matter with Trump’s records.
“The Justice Department previously had told us in response to a question about Bill Clinton: ‘Tough luck, it’s his.’ But they changed their mind for Donald Trump?” Fitton told Just the News. “The law and court decision suggests that Trump is right. And frankly, based on this analysis, Trump should get every single document they took from him back. It’s all personal records.”