White House says it is keeping deleted presidential tweets

The archivist of the United States reported that the White House plans to save deleted tweets, but notes that the president is the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn't a presidential record.

Shutterstock image: digital record overlay.

The White House plans to save deleted tweets, according to a communication from the head of the National Archives, but the president is the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn't a presidential record.

David S. Ferriero, the national archivist, set out the current status of records management training and policy in a reply to a query from Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del). The senators had asked about the state of NARA's communications with the White House over records management practices, the possible avoidance of email by White House officials and the use of self-deleting encrypted messaging apps and other technologies designed to defeat records management laws.

McCaskill and Carper also wanted to know about the disposition of President Donald Trump's deleted tweets – he occasionally discards the emanations from his personal and official accounts because of spelling errors or other undisclosed reasons. McCaskill and Carper wanted to know if NARA had "made a determination of whether the Trump administration must preserve altered or deleted tweets," and if not, "when NARA anticipates making such a determination."

In his reply, Ferriero noted that it was not up to NARA to make determinations "with respect to whether something is or is not a Presidential record." That authority lies with the president himself, he noted.

"NARA has advised the White House that it should capture and preserve all tweets that the President posts in the course of his official duties, including those that are subsequently deleted," Ferriero wrote. "And NARA has been informed by the White House that they are, in fact, doing so."

NARA officials and White House counsel staff have discussed Presidential Records Act compliance, Ferriero said, including a detailed Feb. 2 briefing.

Additionally, White House officials told Ferriero that their internal guidance on Presidential Records Act compliance forbids the use of smartphone apps such as Confide that do not preserve messages.

Ferriero spelled out the need to develop procedures for the use of such apps across the government in a March 15 transmittal to the senior agency officials who act as the records management leads. These officials are supposed to high-ranking executives at the assistant secretary level or higher, although in practice the responsibility often falls to agency CIOs.

In that notice, included as an attachment in the reply to McCaskill and Carper, Ferriero called out media reports that discussed the use of apps like Signal, Confide, WhatsApp, "and others that support encryption or the ability to automatically delete messages after they are read or sent." Ferriero told senior officials, "Any use of such communication applications requires coordination with your legal counsel and records management officials to ensure compliance with the Federal Records Act and related regulations." He added that it is up to agencies to set policies for the use of such apps before they are deployed, and that agencies "must take steps to manage and preserve records created through their use for as long as required."

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