White House ordered to preserve evidence about Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders

Aaron Schwartz

A federal judge has ordered the White House to preserve records of President Trump’s “meetings, phone calls, and other communications with foreign leaders,” a move that comes as the president faces a formal impeachment inquiry over his interactions with Ukraine. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an appointee of former President Obama, issued the directive on Thursday.

{mosads}The order — which stemmed from a lawsuit filed in May by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as well as the National Security Archive and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations — also called on the Trump administration to preserve “all records of efforts by White House or other executive branch officials to return, ‘claw back,’ ‘lock down’ or recall White House records.”

Politico first reported the judge’s decision late Saturday.

The suit was filed months before Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became the subject of a whistleblower complaint within the intelligence community. 

The civil suit, filed against Trump and the Executive Office of the President, accused the White House of failing to follow the Presidential Records Act, a law that governs the official records of the president. 

Politico noted that lawyers pressed Jackson to issue a temporary restraining order in light of reports that the White House placed some of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders onto a computer system not typically meant for those conversations. 

Jackson denied the request on Wednesday after the Justice Department made assurances that it would secure records of communications between Trump and foreign leaders. Justice Department lawyer Kathryn Wyer said in a two-page filing that the administration would “voluntarily agree … to preserve the material at issue,” The Washington Post reported

Just a day later, Jackson issued the directive ordering the White House to preserve a host of communications between Trump and foreign leaders. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

Trump is facing intensifying scrutiny over revelations about his efforts to encourage Ukraine to investigate 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. A whistleblower complaint accusing Trump of a broad effort to enlist the foreign nation’s help in his 2020 reelection campaign contributed to a formal impeachment inquiry in the House. 

The complaint focuses in part on allegations about the White House’s actions with regard to Trump’s conversation with foreign leaders. Among other things, the complaint alleges that senior White House officials intervened to “lock down” records of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. It also claims that White House officials were told by White House lawyers to move the electronic transcript onto a separate computer system “that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”  

This report was updated at 8:58 a.m. 

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