Enforcing the Presidential Records Act is essential for preserving our democracy's transparency, history
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During the Watergate scandal investigation and after his resignation, President Nixon considered destroying the infamous White House tapes. Congress quickly responded by passing the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act in 1974 to place the Nixon tapes in the National Archives to ensure their place in the historical record. Four years later, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978 to require that all documents produced by the president and the staff of the Executive Office of the President would be preserved in the National Archives. Now, five presidents later, we know that President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE reportedly has a dangerous habit of ripping up official documents after he’s read them. As he prepares to leave the office and as President-elect Biden transitions into his new role as Commander in Chief, it’s essential that we ensure compliance with the PRA to preserve a complete record of the Trump administration.

Some members of the administration have shown a commitment to abiding by the law, such as those staffers tasked with taping back together documents the President has deliberately torn. But this is far from universal as senior White House staffers, including Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerNew Kushner group aims to promote relations between Arab states, Israel Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process Iran moves closer to a diplomatic breakthrough that may upset Israel MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpMelinda Gates tapped divorce lawyers in 2019 after Epstein links to husband: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ivanka Trump doubles down on vaccine push with post celebrating second shot MORE, have reportedly evaded the records requirement by conducting official government business through personal messaging and email accounts while others have, contrary to standard security practice, deliberately hidden transcripts of calls with foreign leaders. Similarly, President Trump seized the notes of his interpreter in meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. These exchanges and documents clearly fall under the purview of the PRA and are supposed to be provided to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for review and potential preservation.

The purpose of the PRA is to strengthen transparency, trust, and accountability in government while allowing us to learn from our past through ensuring that every piece of paper that the president touches is saved in public archives. Records from the Franklin Roosevelt administration have shed light on the New Deal, documents from the Cuban Missile Crisis revealed how close the country came to war, and those from the Vietnam era revealed White House deliberations when presidents faced a divided country.

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With over 250,000 deaths and enormous economic consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic will also go down in history as a challenging and important era for our country. COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic, and records from this time period will allow us to analyze the Trump administration’s successes and failures in combating the coronavirus. Without those records, future public health officials and politicians risk repeating the flawed pandemic response that we have seen this year. The PRA may seem like an administrative detail, and in practice it is, but it allows us to save our history and learn from our past. Every president has lessons to teach those that follow, for good or ill, and the proper documentation of those lessons beyond subjective memoirs and recollections enables our country to choose to emulate its successes or to avoid repeating its mistakes.

The enforcement of the PRA falls to the attorney general and the archivist at NARA to provide “guidance” to the Executive Office of the President because while the PRA requires that the president save documents, the implementation of that requirement is left to the discretion of the president. In practice, that means the PRA is essentially an honor system, unless Congress acts to ensure that the law is followed and documents are preserved.

Congress is currently attempting to provide a heightened level of oversight to the PRA. Last month, I wrote letters to White House Counsel and the Department of Justice urging the administration to adhere to the PRA and follow the law. As one of the three branches of government, Congress was entrusted with the responsibility of serving as a watchdog over the executive branch, especially when a president resists accountability. Now is such a time, and Congress must continue to rise to the occasion.

With greater congressional oversight and public scrutiny on the maintenance of the historical record, I hope President Trump will follow the PRA by properly preserving the documents and history of the Trump administration. We’ll have much to learn about the Trump years and our country from these archives.

Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiMedical supplies arriving in India amid surge in COVID-19 infections Overnight Health Care: US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries | Biden speaks with Prime Minister Modi as COVID-19 surges in India US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries MORE, a Democrat from Schaumburg, represents the 8th District of Illinois.