By Zachary Stieber
The National Archives and Records Administration is illegally withholding documents that were declassified by then-President Donald Trump, according to a new lawsuit.
The archives, or NARA, has repeatedly refused to provide the documents Trump declassified just before leaving office on Jan. 19, 2021.
The documents relate to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, a counterintelligence probe that examined purported links between Trump and Russian actors.
John Solomon, a journalist, and Kash Patel, a former Trump administration official, asked NARA for the documents in 2022 after being named Trump’s representatives to NARA.
Gary Stern, a NARA official, said the declassified records had been sent to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) per a memorandum from then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who directed on Jan. 20, 2021, the DOJ to review the materials and release them with redactions.
“I have asked DOJ to complete its review as quickly as possible, so that we can all have a fully releasable set of records,” Stern said in a message on Aug. 17, 2022.
NARA did find a box with about 2,700 pages but couldn’t ascertain the box’s classification status and is thus treating it as top-secret, Stern said in another email.
NARA is violating the Presidential Records Act, which states that presidential records of a former president “shall be available to such former President or the former President’s designated representative,” the new suit states.
The government defendants “have wrongfully taken or are wrongfully in possession of and/or detaining the subject records,” it states.
Solomon filed the suit in federal court in Washington.
He is asking the court to order the DOJ to immediately return the records to NARA and to order NARA to turn the records over once received.
“President Trump declassified these records so the American public could see for itself the abuses and failures of the FBI during the Russia collusion case. But at every step of the process, the public has been thwarted,” Solomon said in a statement. “These declassified records are clear records of the Trump presidency, have clear historical value, and have been wrongly kept from the Archives and its employer, the American people, by the DOJ for more than two years.”
The DOJ didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“We don’t comment on litigation matters,” a NARA spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email.
Emails Reveal Details
Emails attached to the complaint showed NARA repeatedly resisting efforts by Solomon and Patel, who’s an EpochTV host, to access the declassified documents.
Trump designated the pair as his NARA representatives on June 19, 2022. Three days later, Solomon asked for the declassified binder of documents.
Trump had said in his order, “I hereby declassify the remaining materials in the binder.” He said he accepted the FBI’s proposed redactions and directed the attorney general to implement the redactions and return the redacted copies to the White House.
Meadows, in a memo (pdf) to the attorney general the next day, said he was sending the bulk of the binder to the DOJ with instructions to “expeditiously conduct a Privacy Act review under the standards that the Department of Justice would normally apply, redact material appropriately, and release the remaining material with redactions applied.”
The documents were still with the DOJ, not with NARA, Stern said on June 23, 2022.
Because of a lawsuit from Judicial Watch, the DOJ was conducting a mandatory declassification review, he added, recommending Solomon try to get a copy of the documents the DOJ was going to release in the case.
Patel questioned the basis for withholding the documents. “Who countermanded and reversed a valid execution of declassification by President Trump and based on what legal authority?” he wondered. “There can be no delay, and no reason to send us to DOJ for these documents.”
Stern pointed back to Meadows’s memo. He did confirm that the box NARA located contained at least some of the same documents as are in the binder but said that staffers found some cases of documents being redacted differently and others lacking a required declassification marker.
Stern later confirmed that the White House retained copies of all of the documents as presidential records but “not in an easily discernable manner” and without redactions as he continued to refuse to release them.
“The evidence is that the Russia collusion hoax was knowingly and intentionally perpetrated by high-ranking FBI and Department of Justice officials to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 presidential election. This unprecedented abuse of power and election interference is a scandal so monumental that it dissolves Watergate into insignificance,” Reed Rubinstein, senior counsel for America First Legal, which is representing Solomon, said in a statement.
“Former President Trump declassified the FBI’s records to make public the truth, but the Biden Administration and the National Archives are now doing everything in their power to keep the Russia lie alive by obstructing Mr. Solomon’s access to these records,” Rubinstein said. “This obstruction cannot stand – the American people deserve the truth.”