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Every administration since the '80s has mishandled classified documents, says the National Archives

Archives officials told Congress that lawmakers have also had problems setting aside classified information.
President Joe Biden on the South Lawn of the White House in March.
President Joe Biden on the South Lawn of the White House in March.Demetrius Freeman / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Every administration since President Ronald Reagan's has mismanaged classified documents, according to National Archives and Records Administration officials who spoke to a congressional committee behind closed doors in March. 

The House Intelligence Committee voted to release the transcript of their testimony Wednesday afternoon.

The problem of maintaining classified documents extends beyond just presidents and vice presidents, the National Archives officials said. Mark Bradley, who directs the agency's Information Security Oversight Office, said that since 2010, his office has gotten more than 80 calls from libraries that have found classified information in papers belonging to members of Congress.

When members of Congress give their papers to libraries after they retire, those papers are processed. Bradley said librarians call the Archives to alert it that classified information has been found, at which point agency officials are sent to retrieve the documents. 

For example, Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine — who left Congress in 1980 and was secretary of state in the last year of President Jimmy Carter's administration — included 98 classified documents when his papers were given to Bates College. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said in a statement that “the handling and mishandling of classified documents are a problem that stretches beyond the Oval Office.” He called the issue “systemic.” 

“We need a better way for elected officials who are leaving office — in both the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch — to properly return classified material and protect the integrity of our national security,” Turner added. 

Classified documents have been found at the properties of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

William Bosanko, the National Archives' chief operating officer, told the committee that there is no “document-level tracking” in the White House, which presents issues. “So anybody’s ability to know that something has gone missing or astray is very limited,” he said.