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House Democrats demand White House, agencies preserve records

The committee chairmen wrote to more than 50 federal agencies as Biden prepares to take power.
Image: Birds fly over the White House at dusk, the day after a presidential election victory was called for former Vice President Joe Biden, in Washington
The White House at dusk Sunday.Erin Scott / Reuters

Democratic House committee chairmen sent letters Tuesday demanding that the White House and more than 50 federal agencies preserve all records now that Joe Biden is projected as president-elect.

"As the Trump Administration prepares for the transition of power to the new Biden Administration, we write to remind you that all Executive Office of the President employees and officials must comply with record preservation obligations set forth in federal law and preserve information relevant to congressional oversight," the chairmen wrote to White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

READ: Here are the Republicans who have broken with Trump on the election

The White House and the Biden transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The letters say the administration must preserve records in accordance with the Presidential Records Act and other federal regulations regarding record-keeping.

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The Democrats demanded that the administration retain "all documents that are or may be potentially responsive to any congressional inquiry, request, investigation, or subpoena that was initiated, continued, or otherwise undertaken during the 116th Congress."

The records, the Democrats said, include hard copies, electronic messages and metadata pertaining to official government business from both official and personal accounts and devices.

"Over the last four years, the administration obstructed numerous congressional investigations by refusing to provide responsive information," the chairmen wrote. "You are obligated to ensure that any information previously requested by Congress — and any other information that is required by law to be preserved — is saved and appropriately archived in a manner that is easily retrievable."

The Presidential Records Act, passed in 1978, requires presidents to preserve and eventually make public all records pertaining to their official duties. Last month, a dozen pro-transparency groups wrote to urge the National Archives and Records Administration to outline how it was ensuring that such records were being preserved.

Donald Sherman, deputy director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the letters from House chairmen Tuesday were "necessary," adding that concerns over record preservation extend beyond Congress to individuals and groups such as his that have open Freedom of Information Act requests and other open litigation "for critical records."

"And there's a concern, much in the same way that at the same time that the president is refusing to acknowledge the results of our free and fair election, that political appointees are also facilitating the destruction of documents," Sherman said.