News Topic

Advocacy, Archives & Records



As one of four plaintiffs in National Security Archive et. al. v. Donald J. Trump et. al., the American Historical Association (AHA) joins our colleagues in reflecting on significant accomplishments: a formal instruction from the Justice Department articulating precise instruction to the White House for records retention, and immediate attention to these issues on the part of the Biden administration.

Filed on December 1, 2020, this lawsuit drew on documented evidence of violations of the Presidential Records Act to seek court-ordered compliance during the transition. The judge determined that such action was unnecessary only because the Justice Department responded to the suit by issuing a formal “litigation hold” to all White House personnel that lasted up to the inauguration on January 20.

The advocacy by the AHA and our collaborators for the preservation of presidential records has apparently helped to shape specific policies going forward. For instance, White House records managers have successfully deployed an archival tool in the WhatsApp software to capture full copies of messages-a central issue in this lawsuit. In light of the Biden administration’s White House records policy, and with the National Archives and Records Administration now in legal possession of the Trump Presidential Records, the AHA and its co-plaintiffs have filed to dismiss the suit without prejudice.

We are grateful to attorneys Anne Weismann and Nikhel Sus for the energy and expertise they brought to this lawsuit on behalf of the AHA, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Security Archive, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Affairs.

The AHA continues to monitor these and related issues. The Association has been involved in conversations with Congressional staff about necessary revisions to the Presidential Records Act to ensure historians’ access to complete records of future administrations.