Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is testing his already low popularity by provoking a political crisis that could bring down Italy’s coalition government at a critical juncture in the coronavirus pandemic.
Renzi orchestrated the resignations of two ministers from his tiny but key Italia Viva party. The outcome of his power play will become clearer this week, when Premier Giuseppe Conte addresses both houses of Parliament. If Conte makes a successful bid for support, he could go on to form what would be his third coalition government since Italy’s 2018 election.
This is not Renzi’s first foray as an iconoclast shaking up Italian politics. He became premier in 2014 by out-maneuvering and unceremoniously deposing then-fellow Democratic Party member Enrico Letta as Italy’s leader. Renzi himself fell from power nearly three years later after gambling his popularity on a constitutional referendum that failed.
Now, the 46-year-old former Florence mayor might bring down Conte. He broadly accuses the premier of not properly managing the coronavirus crisis. Renzi says he is only following his conscience, at great political cost.
“Italia Viva did not start the crisis. It has been going on for months,” he asserted during a press conference last week.
Renzi, a senator for the Italia Viva party, supported Conte during an earlier, failed power grab by Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party that was part of Conte’s first government.
New polls show junior coalition partner Italia Viva has the support of just 2.4% of survey respondents, down from a high of 6.2% at the party’s inception. Italia Viva was created in September 2019 when Renzi bolted the Democratic Party he once ran. He brought with him two Cabinet members, giving himself the kind of leverage he employed last week.
With the resignation of the Italia Viva ministers, Conte is working to shore up support in parliament among independent lawmakers. He still has the backing of the Democratic Party and the 5-Star Movement, which have criticized Renzi’s move as irresponsible.
Conte will make his case in the lower house on Monday and to the Senate on Tuesday. A voice vote will take place after each appearance, tantamount to a vote of confidence.
If he fails to secure enough backing, Conte would likely submit his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella. In that case, a technical government could be put in place. Analysts believe an early election is the least likely outcome, due to the difficulty of holding a political campaign and election during the pandemic. There are also concerns that the right-wing opposition would gain strength, and possible lead a new government. The current majority would like to hold on at least until January 2022, when a new president must be chosen.
Conte may survive to lead what would be his third government by cobbling together enough support in both houses. And it is still possible that Italia Viva will restore its backing.
Italy expects to have 222 billion euros ($268 billion) in European Union economic recovery funds to manage, money that is crucial to modernizing the country and its limping economy.
While Conte had wide support during Italy’s devastating go-round with the coronavirus in the first half of 2020, cracks in his popularity have appeared during the even more deadly fall resurgence. Four months into the government’s system of tiered restrictions, new confirmed daily infections remain stubbornly high, and Italy’s pandemic death toll of 81,800 is the second-highest in Europe after Britain.
Conte’s government also is under fire for not keeping high schools open during the pandemic, a decision mostly tied to inadequate transportation to allow for social distancing. And there are concerns that Italy does not have enough medical personnel to carry out the country’s vaccination campaign.
But the crisis was ultimately spurred when Conte presented a plan that would have put himself in charge of managing the EU recovery funds. Political analyst Wolfgang Piccoli called it “the ultimate mistake,” setting up Renzi’s move to reassert his own “prominence.”
Italians are showing little patience for the political infighting when the nation’s priority is getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and rolling out the vaccines that many hope will end the nation’s long coronavirus nightmare. In a new poll, 42% of Italians said they didn’t understand what provoked the latest government divisions.
In his first hours as president, Joe Biden plans to take executive action to roll back some of the most controversial decisions of his predecessor and to address the raging coronavirus pandemic, his incoming chief of staff said Saturday.
The opening salvo would herald a 10-day blitz of executive actions as Biden seeks to act swiftly to redirect the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency without waiting for Congress.
On Wednesday, following his inauguration, Biden will end Trump’s restriction on immigration to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries, move to rejoin the Paris climate accord and mandate mask-wearing on federal property and during interstate travel. Those are among roughly a dozen actions Biden will take on his first day in the White House, his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, said in a memo to senior staff.
Other actions include extending the pause on student loan payments and actions meant to prevent evictions and foreclosures for those struggling during the pandemic.
“These executive actions will deliver relief to the millions of Americans that are struggling in the face of these crises,” Klain said in the memo. “President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward.”
“Full achievement” of Biden’s goals will require Congress to act, Klain wrote, including the $1.9 trillion virus relief bill he outlined on Thursday. Klain said that Biden would also propose a comprehensive immigration reform bill to lawmakers on his first day in office.
Providing a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally will be part of Biden’s agenda, according to people briefed on his plans. Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum and among those briefed, said immigrants would be put on an eight-year path. There would be a faster track for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields people from deportation who came to the U.S. as children, and for those from strife-torn countries with temporary status.
Also Read: Biden faces challenge in guiding American past Trump era
On Thursday, the new president’s second day in office, Biden would sign orders related to the COVID-19 outbreak aimed at reopening schools and businesses and expanding virus testing, Klain said. The following day, Friday, will see action on providing economic relief to those suffering the economic costs of the pandemic.
Also Read: Biden to speed release of coronavirus vaccines
In the following week, Klain said, Biden would take additional actions relating to criminal justice reform, climate change and immigration — including a directive to speed the reuniting of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump’s policies.
More actions will be added, Klain said, once they clear legal review.
Incoming presidents traditionally move swiftly to sign an array of executive actions when they take office. Trump did the same, but he found many of his orders challenged and even rejected by courts.
Also Read: Biden blames Trump for violence at Capitol
Klain maintained that Biden should not suffer similar issues, saying “the legal theory behind them is well-founded and represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President.”
Vaccines from the West, Russia or China? Or none at all? That dilemma faces nations in southeastern Europe, where coronavirus vaccination campaigns are off to a slow start — overshadowed by heated political debates and conspiracy theories.
In countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, vaccine skeptics have included former presidents and even some doctors. Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic was among those who said he did not want to be forced to get inoculated.
False beliefs that the coronavirus is a hoax or that vaccines would inject microchips into people have spread in the countries that were formerly under harsh Communist rule. Those who once routinely underwent mass inoculations are deeply split over whether to get the vaccines at all.
“There is a direct link between support for conspiracy theories and skepticism toward vaccination,” a recent Balkan study warned. “A majority across the region does not plan to take the vaccine, a ratio considerably lower than elsewhere in Europe, where a majority favors taking the vaccine.”
Only about 200,000 people applied for the vaccine in Serbia, a country of 7 million, in the days after authorities opened the procedure. By contrast, 1 million Serbians signed up for 100 euros ($120) on the first day the government offered the pandemic aid.
In this photo taken Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, a protesters holds a cloth badge in the shape of the Jewish Star of David reading: "unvaccinated" during a protest against the government's restrictive measures imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic in Prague, Czech Republic. Across the Balkans and the rest of the nations in the southeastern corner of Europe, a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus is overshadowed by heated political debates or conspiracy theories that threaten to thwart the process. In countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, skeptics have ranged from former presidents to top athletes and doctors. Nations that once routinely went through mass inoculations under Communist leaders are deeply split over whether to take the vaccines at all. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Hoping to encourage vaccinations, Serbian officials have gotten their shots on TV. Yet they themselves have been split over whether to get the Western-made Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or Russia’s Sputnik V, more divisions in a country that is formally seeking European Union membership but where many favor closer ties with Moscow.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Saturday greeted a shipment of 1 million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, saying he will receive a shot to show that it is safe.
“Serbs prefer the Russian vaccine,” read a recent headline of the Informer, a pro-government tabloid, as officials announced that 38% of those who have applied to take the shots favor the Russian vaccine, while 31% want the Pfizer-BioNTech version — a rough division among pro-Russians and pro-Westerners in Serbia.
In neighboring Bosnia, a war-torn country that remains ethnically divided among Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, politics also are a factor, as the Serb-run half appeared set to opt for the Russian vaccine, while the Bosniak-Croat part likely will turn to the Western ones.
Sasa Milovanovic, a 57-year-old real estate agent from Belgrade, sees all vaccines as part of the “global manipulation” of the pandemic.
“People are locked up, they have no lives any longer and live in a state of hysteria and fear,” he said.
Djokovic has said he was against being forced to take a coronavirus vaccine in order to travel and compete but was keeping his mind open. The top-ranked tennis player and his wife tested positive in June after a series of exhibition matches with zero social distancing that he organized in the Balkans. They and their foundation have donated 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to buy ventilators and other medical equipment for hospitals in Serbia.
In this photo taken on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 a man wears a muzzle during a protest against the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Bucharest, Romania. Across the Balkans and the rest of the nations in the southeastern corner of Europe, a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus is overshadowed by heated political debates or conspiracy theories that threaten to thwart the process. In countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, skeptics have ranged from former presidents to top athletes and doctors. Nations that once routinely went through mass inoculations under Communist leaders are deeply split over whether to take the vaccines at all. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)
Serbian Health Ministry official Mirsad Djerlek has described the vaccine response as “satisfactory,” but cautioned on the state-run RTS broadcaster that “people in rural areas usually believe in conspiracy theories, and that is why we should talk to them and explain that the vaccine is the only way out in this situation.”
A study by the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group, published before the regional vaccination campaign started in December, concluded that virus conspiracy theories are believed by nearly 80% of citizens of the Western Balkan countries striving to join the EU. About half of them will refuse to get vaccinated, it said.
Also Read: Pakistan approves Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Baseless theories allege the virus isn’t real or that it’s a bioweapon created by the U.S. or its adversaries. Another popular falsehood holds that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is using COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in the planet’s 7 billion people.
A low level of information about the virus and vaccines, distrust in governments and repeated assertions by authorities that their countries are besieged by foreigners help explain the high prevalence of such beliefs, according to the Balkans think tank.
Similar trends have been seen even in some eastern European Union countries.
In this photo taken on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 a Romanian gendarme gets a COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Bucharest, Romania. Across the Balkans and the rest of the nations in the southeastern corner of Europe, a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus is overshadowed by heated political debates or conspiracy theories that threaten to thwart the process. In countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, skeptics have ranged from former presidents to top athletes and doctors. Nations that once routinely went through mass inoculations under Communist leaders are deeply split over whether to take the vaccines at all. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
In Bulgaria, widespread conspiracy theories hampered past efforts to deal with a measles outbreak. Surveys there suggested distrust of vaccines remains high even as coronavirus cases keep rising. A recent Gallup International poll found that 30% of respondents want to get vaccinated, 46% will refuse and 24% are undecided.
Bulgarian doctors have tried to change attitudes. Dr. Stefan Konstantinov, a former health minister, joked that people should be told neighboring Greece would close resorts to tourists who don’t get vaccinated, because “this would guarantee that some 70% of the population would rush to get a jab.”
In the Czech Republic, where surveys show some 40% reject vaccination, protesters at a big rally against government virus restrictions in Prague demanded that vaccinations not be mandatory. Former President Vaclav Klaus, a fierce critic of the government’s pandemic response, told the crowd that vaccines are not a solution.
“They say that everything will be solved by a miracle vaccine,” said the 79-year-old Klaus, who insists that people should get exposed to the virus to gain immunity, which experts reject. “We have to say loud and clear that there’s no such a thing. … I am not going to get vaccinated.”
Populist authorities in Hungary have taken a hard line against virus misinformation, but rejection of vaccines is still projected at about 30%. Parliament passed emergency powers in March that allows authorities to prosecute anyone deemed to be “inhibiting the successful defense” against the virus, including “fearmongering” or spreading false news. At least two people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic on social media were arrested, but neither was formally charged.
Romanian Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu said he is relying on family doctors to “inform, schedule and monitor people after the vaccine” and that his ministry will offer bonuses to medical workers based on the number of people they get onboard. Asked if such incentives would fuel anti-vaccination propaganda, Voiculescu said: “I am interested more by the doctors’ view on the matter than I am about the anti-vaxxers.”
Dr. Ivica Jeremic, who has worked with virus patients in Serbia since March and tested positive himself in November, hopes vaccination programs will gain speed once people overcome their fear of the unknown.
“People will realize the vaccine is the only way to return to normal life,” he said.
Pakistan’s planning minister says the country’s drug regulatory authority has approved the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and the government is trying to make it available by the first quarter of the year.
Asad Umar, who is also the head of the national agency for COVID-19, told Geo TV that the vaccine in the first phase will be administered to health workers and those aged 65 and above.
Umar said the Chinese company CanSino is also holding clinical trials in Pakistan and hoped its vaccine would also be registered next month.
People sit outside a restaurant in a heated tent in Glenview, Ill., Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced Friday that limited indoor service will be allowed for regions of the state that see their COVID-19 metrics improve enough to move down to the state's Tier 1 mitigation level. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
He said Pakistan will get the vaccines through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or GAVI, and other alternative international sources. The AstraZeneca vaccine is being prepared in India, which has strained relations with rival Pakistan and says it will prioritize its own population.
Pakistan reported 2,521 new cases and 43 deaths in the last 24 hours.
China has finished building a 1,500-room hospital for COVID-19 patients to fight a surge in infections the government said are harder to contain and that it blamed on infected people or goods from abroad.
Brazilhasn’t approved a single vaccine yet, and independent health experts who participated in its immunization program say the plan is still incomplete, at best.
A new U.N. report estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of international migrantsby 2 million by the middle of 2020 because of border closings and a halt to travel worldwide.
China on Sunday reported 109 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, two-thirds of them in a northern province that abuts Beijing, and no deaths.
There were 72 new cases in Hebei province, where the government is building isolation hospitals with a total of 9,500 rooms to combat an upsurge in infections, according to the National Health Commission.
China had largely contained the virus that first was detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019 but has reported hundreds of new infections since December. The Health Commission on Saturday blamed them on travelers and imported goods it said brought the virus from abroad.
China’s death toll stands at 4,653 out of 88,227 total cases.
Mexico posted its second straight day of more than 20,000 coronavirus cases Saturday, suggesting a surge in a country already struggling in many areas with overflowing hospitals.
There were 20,523 newly confirmed cases Saturday after 21,366 infections were reported Friday. That was about double the daily rate of increase just a week ago. Reporting normally declines on weekends, suggesting next week may bring even higher numbers.
LA County Dept. of Medical Examiner-Coroner shows National Guard members assisting with processing COVID-19 deaths and placing them into temporary storage at LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Office in Los Angeles in Los Angeles. More than 500 people are dying each day in California because of the coronavirus. The death toll has prompted state officials to send more refrigerated trailers to local governments to act as makeshift morgues. State officials said Friday they have helped distribute 98 refrigerated trailers to help county coroners store dead bodies. California reported 669 COVID-19 deaths, the second-highest daily death count, on Saturday, Jan. 16, and the nation's most populous county announced it had detected its first case of a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus. Public health authorities in Los Angeles County confirmed its first case of the variant of COVID-19 first detected in the United Kingdom. It was identified in a man who recently spent time in the county. (LA County Dept. of Medical Examiner-Coroner via AP, File)
The country also recorded 1,219 more deaths, a near-record. The country has now seen almost 1.63 million total infections and has registered over 140,000 deaths so far in the pandemic.
In Mexico City, the current center of the pandemic in Mexico, 88% percent of hospital beds are full.
BATON ROUGE, La.
Louisiana has identified the state’s first case of a coronavirus variant believed to be more transmissible than the original.
The governor’s office said Saturday the case was detected in a person in the New Orleans area.
The variant, first detected in Britain, has alarmed officials in many nations because studies indicate it may spread more easily than other viral strains, though it it is not believed to be more deadly and appears to be vulnerable to vaccines.
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement saying it is urgent “that everyone double down on the mitigation measures that we know are effective in reducing the spread of the virus.”
Edwards noted that the variant has been detected in at least 15 other states.
In neighboring Texas, health officials in Dallas County on Saturday reported the state’s third case of the variant, this one in a Dallas man in his 20s with no history of travel outside the United States.
Texas reported a Houston-area man as its first case of a person infected with the new variant on Jan. 7.
CARSON CITY, Nev.
take your pick — Nevada on Saturday reported a daily record high of 63 COVID-19 deaths along with 2,040 additional confirmed cases as the coronavirus surge continued.
The state’s pandemic totals increased to 260,090 cases and 3,761 deaths, according to Department of Health and Human Services data.
Nevada’s previous high number of deaths reported on a single day was 62 on Thursday.
A man closes his stop at the start of the new curfew to counter the COVID-19, in Lille, northern France, Saturday, Jan 16, 2021. All of France will be under a stricter curfew starting Saturday at 6 p.m. for at least 15 days to fight the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
The 311 deaths reported in the week since Jan. 10 were a pandemic one -week high for Nevada, surpassing the 299 deaths reported the previous week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
President-elect Joe Biden introduced his team of scientific advisers on Saturday, saying they will lead with “science and truth. We believe in both.”
Biden is elevating the position of science adviser to Cabinet level, a White House first. He called Eric Lander, a pioneer in mapping the human genome is in line to be director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “one of the most brilliant guys I know.”
Lander is the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome.
Lander says Biden has tasked his advisers and “the whole scientific community and the American public” to “rise to this moment.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris recalled her late mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a cancer researcher, who she credited with teaching her to think critically.
“The science behind climate change is not a hoax. The science behind the virus is not partisan,” Harris said. “The same laws apply, the same evidence holds true regardless of whether or not you accept them.”
As the rollout of coronavirus vaccines begins, the U.S. leads the world with 23.6 million cases and more than 393,000 confirmed deaths.
Health officials in Hawaii have partnered with local pharmacies to offer drive-thru and in-home coronavirus vaccinations for residents.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the Department of Health started scheduling licensed care homes in Oahu for vaccinations this week. Neighboring islands have already started drive-thru clinics, county hubs and other mobile services.
Christians inside their cars pray during a drive-in worship service amid measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Songgok high school in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
The health department is working with employers to identify front-line workers for the vaccination. The department is planning to launch an online portal where workers can register for the vaccine. Officials say more than 56,000 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Health officials reported 150 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Friday. The state has more than 24,000 confirmed cases and more than 300 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
South Dakota is looking to build its coronavirus rollout by making shots available to a larger group of people.
Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says the state will begin vaccinating people 80 and over and those with high-risk medical conditions. Some rural health care providers worry their patients will be missed by large hospital systems.
South Dakota has vaccinated 6.5% of the population, one of the highest rates in the country. Last fall, the state had one of the highest positivity rates in the nation.
The Department of Health reported 341 positive tests, raising the confirmed total to 105,278.
The Oklahoma City school district is set to resume some in-person classes for the district’s youngest students and those in alternative education.
The district’s pre-kindergarten through 4th grade students and those in alternative education will begin returning Tuesday for alternating in-person and in-person classes. Students in grades 5-12 are scheduled to return on Feb. 1.
Oklahoma ranked fourth in the nation Saturday in the rate of new cases per capita with 1,448 per 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases in the state has increased from 2,626 per day on Jan. 1 to 3,922 on Friday. The rolling average of deaths rose from 23 deaths per day to 31 according to the data.
The state health department on Saturday reported 3,621 coronavirus cases and 27 deaths for confirmed totals of 351,665 cases and 2,952 deaths.
A third person with a case of the coronavirus variant has been reported in Texas.
Dallas County Health and Human Services reported Saturday that a Dallas man in his 20s with no history of travel outside the United States has tested positive for the variant that originated in the United Kingdom.
Texas is among a handful of states with at least one known case of the new variant that appears to spread more easily. But state health officials say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease, and say current vaccines are expected to still be effective.
Texas reported a Houston-area man as its first case of a person infected with the new variant on Jan. 7.
The state health department on Friday reported confirmed totals of more than 2 million cases and more than 31,00 deaths in Texas.
The public won’t see President Donald Trump’s White House records for years, but there’s growing concern the collection won’t be complete, leaving a hole in the history of one of America’s most tumultuous presidencies.
Trump has been cavalier about the law requiring that records be preserved. He has a habit of ripping up documents before tossing them out, forcing White House records workers to spend hours taping them back together.
“They told him to stop doing it. He didn’t want to stop,” said Solomon Lartey, a former White House records analyst. He said the first document he taped back together was a letter from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., about a government shutdown.
The president also confiscated an interpreter’s notes after Trump had a chat with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump scolded his White House counsel for taking notes at a meeting during the Russia investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller. Top executive branch officials had to be reminded more than once not to conduct official business on private email or text messaging systems and to preserve it if they did.
And now, Trump’s baseless claim of widespread voter fraud, which postponed for weeks an acknowledgement of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, is delaying the transfer of documents to the National Archives and Records Administration, further heightening concern about the integrity of the records.
“Historians are likely to suffer from far more holes than has been the norm,” said Richard Immerman at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. In the Trump White House, “not only has record-keeping not been a priority, but we have multiple examples of it seeking to conceal or destroy that record.”
Lack of a complete record might also hinder any ongoing investigations of Trump, from his impeachment trial and other prospective federal inquiries to investigations in the state of New York.
But even with requests by lawmakers and lawsuits by government transparency groups, there is an acknowledgment that noncompliance with the Presidential Records Act carries little consequence for Trump.
Also Read: Trump won't attend Biden's inauguration
In tossing out one suit last year, U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote that courts cannot “micromanage the president’s day-to-day compliance.”
The Presidential Records Act states that a president cannot destroy records until he seeks the advice of the national archivist and notifies Congress. But the law doesn’t require him to heed the archivist’s advice. It doesn’t prevent the president from going ahead and destroying records.
Most presidential records today are electronic. Records experts estimate that automatic backup computer systems capture a vast majority of the records, but cannot capture records that a White House chooses not to create or log into those systems.
Also Read: Facebook bans Trump through Biden inauguration, maybe longer
Moving a president’s trail of paper and electronic records is a laborious task. President Barack Obama left about 30 million pages of paper documents and some 250 terabytes of electronic records, including the equivalent of about 1.5 billion pages of emails.
The records of past presidents are important because they can help a current president craft new policies and prevent mistakes from being repeated.
“Presidential records tell our nation’s story from a unique perspective and are essential to an incoming administration in making informed decisions,” said Lee White, director of the National Coalition for History. “They are equally vital to historians.”
When Trump lost the November election, records staffers were in position to transfer electronic records, pack up the paper ones and move them to the National Archives by Jan. 20, as required by law. But Trump’s reluctance to concede has meant they will miss the deadline.
“Necessary funding from the (White House) Office of Management and Budget was delayed for many weeks after the election, which has caused delays in arranging for the transfer of the Trump presidential records into the National Archives’ custody,” the National Archives said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Even though the transfer of these records will not be completed until after Jan. 20, the National Archives will assume legal custody of them on Jan. 20 in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Saturday that contesting the election did not cause the delay in getting the president’s records transferred to the archives and that guidance was available to staffers on how to pack up their materials.
One person familiar with the transition said guidance typically emailed to executive branch employees explaining how to turn in equipment and pack up their offices was sent out in December, but quickly rescinded because Trump insisted on contesting the election.
With little guidance, some staffers in the White House started quietly calling records workers to find out what to do.
Departing employees are instructed to create a list of folders in each box and make a spreadsheet to give the National Archives a way to track and retrieve the information for the incoming Biden team. The process gets more complex with classified material.
The Biden administration can request to see Trump records immediately, but the law says the public must wait five years before submitting Freedom of Information Act requests. Even then, Trump — like other presidents before him — is invoking specific restrictions to public access of his records for up to 12 years. Six restrictions outlined in the law include national security, confidential business information, confidential communications between the president and his advisers or among his advisers and personal information.
Around Trump’s first impeachment and on other sensitive issues, some normal workflow practices were bypassed, a second person familiar with the process said. Apparently worried about leaks, higher-ups and White House lawyers became more involved in deciding which materials were catalogued and scanned into White House computer networks where they are automatically saved, this person said.
The individuals, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss inner workings at the White House, said that if uncatalogued materials ended up in an office safe, for instance, they would at least be temporarily preserved. But if they were never catalogued in the first place, staffers would not know they existed, making such materials untraceable.
White House staff quickly learned about Trump’s disregard for documents as they witnessed him tearing them up and discarding them.
“My director came up to me and said, ‘You have to tape these together,’” said Lartey, the former records analyst.
Lartey said someone in the White House chief of staff’s office told the president that the documents were considered presidential records and needed to be preserved by law. Lartey said about 10 records staffers ended up on Scotch tape duty at different times, starting with Trump’s first days in the White House through at least mid-2018.
Trump’s staff also engaged in questionable practices by using private emails and messaging apps. Former White House counsel Don McGahn in February 2017 sent a memo that instructed employees not to use nonofficial text messaging apps or private email accounts. If they did, he said, they had to take screenshots of the material and copy it into official email accounts, which are preserved. He sent the memo back out in September 2017.
“It’s an open question to me about how serious or conscientious any of those people have been about moving them over,” said Tom Blanton, who directs the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which was founded in 1985 to combat government secrecy.
Trump was criticized for confiscating the notes of an interpreter who was with him in 2017 when the president talked with Putin in Hamburg, Germany. Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to obtain the notes of another interpreter who was with Trump in 2018 when he met with Putin in Helsinki, Finland. It’s unclear whether the two presidents talked about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Many people suspected the subject did come up because at a news conference afterward, Trump said he believed Putin when Putin denied Russian interference despite U.S. intelligence agencies finding the opposite.
Several weeks ago, the National Security Archive, two historical associations and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued to prevent the Trump White House from destroying any electronic communications or records sent or received on nonofficial accounts, such as personal email or WhatsApp.
They also alleged that the White House has already likely destroyed presidential materials.
The court refused to issue a temporary restraining order after government lawyers told the judge that they had instructed the White House to notify all employees to preserve all electronic communications in their original format until the suit was settled.
“I believe we will find that there’s going to be a huge hole in the historical record of this president because I think there’s probably been serious noncompliance of the Presidential Records Act,” said Anne Weismann, one of the lawyers representing the groups in their suit. “I don’t think President Trump cares about his record and what it says. I think he probably cares, though, about what it might say about his criminal culpability.”
Trump faces several legal challenges when he leaves the White House. There are two New York state inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners. Also, two women alleging he sexually assaulted them are suing him.
Destroying or saving history
Presidential records were considered a president’s personal property until the Watergate scandal under President Richard Nixon prompted Congress in 1978 to pass the Presidential Records Act over worry that Nixon would destroy White House tape recordings that led to his resignation.
After that, presidential records were no longer considered personal property but the property of the American people — if they are preserved. Lawmakers have introduced legislation to require audits of White House record-keeping and compliance with the law.
“The American public should not have to wait until a president has left office to learn of problems with that president’s record-keeping practices,” Weismann said.