The claim: Barack Obama took 33 million documents, many of which are classified, to Chicago
Former President Donald Trump has relentlessly denounced the FBI's search of his Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8 as part of an investigation into whether he illegally removed classified documents from the White House.
Among his attacks, Trump claimed that former President Barack Obama took presidential records to Chicago.
A Facebook post shared Aug. 12 shows three messages, two of which are the same, that Trump shared on Truth Social.
"President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots!" reads one message.
The second message reads, "They could have had it anytime they wanted - and that includes LONG ago. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK. The bigger problem is, what are they going to do with the 33 million pages of documents, many of whcih (sic) are classified, that President Obama took to Chicago."
The Facebook post generated over 90 shares and 600 interactions in less than a week. Trump's Truth Social messages together generated over 50,000 likes, and they were shared to Facebook several hundred times as well, according to social analytics tool CrowdTangle. Similar posts, amassed hundreds of interactions on Facebook and Twitter.
But Obama did nothing of the sort.
The National Archives and Records Administration gained custody of Obama's documents in 2017, according to the agency's statement. It transferred 30 million unclassified records to a facility in Chicago, and Obama had no say in the process.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment. Liz Harrington, Trump's spokesperson, did not reply to a request for comment.
Obama doesn't have custody of his administration's records
The archives agency said in an Aug. 12 statement that they "assumed exclusive legal and physical custody" of Obama's presidential records when he left office in 2017 as part of the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
A follow-up statement Sept. 23 noted that included all classified documents.
"The library holds records from the Obama presidential administration and is leased, controlled, managed, and used exclusively by" the National Archives and Records Administration, the statement said. "The (Obama) foundation has never had possession or control over the records."
Before the 1978 Presidential Records Act, former presidents managed their own records. However, Congress passed the act after former President Richard Nixon, upon resigning in 1974, wanted to destroy White House tapes that implicated him in the Watergate scandal, which unfolded after five burglars attempted to wiretap office communications at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, as USA TODAY reported.
The Presidential Records Act says that incumbent presidents can maintain custody of their records, but they must transfer custody of these records to the archives agency after their term ends, as was the case with Obama.
The archives agency transferred 30 million pages of unclassified records to facility in Chicago and kept the Obama administration's classified records at a facility in the Washington, D.C. area, according to the agency statement.
More: Scribbled notes, classified materials and golf carts: Here's how the millions of White House documents and artifacts should be archived
The archives agency maintains custody and preservation of presidential records and memorabilia in presidential libraries under the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955. In 2017 though, the Obama Foundation decided not to construct a library and sought funding to instead digitize presidential records so the public could easily access them online, according to the foundation's website. This process is ongoing, though it was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the website says.
The records are currently being stored at a temporary facility operated by the archive agency in Illinois that is not open to the public, the foundation's website says. The plan is to move the materials into long-term archival storage after they are digitized, according to a 2017 press release.
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Classified records were placed in the Washington D.C. area so they can be "efficiently and effectively be secured and reviewed for declassification, the release said.
Experts say Obama followed procedure, has limited access
The Obama administration was "very conscientious about following the document control procedure," John Fitzpatrick, former senior director for Records Access and Information Security Management at Obama's National Security Council, told USA TODAY.
For example, any official document that came into or was created by the National Security Council was reported in a computer tracking system, according to Bill Leary, who was the senior director for records and access management at the National Security Council during Obama's first term. That electronic record was then transferred to the archives along with the paper documents, USA TODAY reported.
Classified documents, such as those containing nuclear weapons information, have restrictions on who can access them based on the calculation that the information's release could pose a danger to national security, according to Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin.
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While Obama does not personally have his presidential records at his residence, he can look at them in the archives agency's controlled facilities under the supervision of archivists, such as when he is writing memoirs, Benjamin Hufbauer, a professor at the University of Louisville and a researcher of presidential libraries, told USA TODAY in an email.
Likewise, the Obama Presidential Center Museum, which the Obama Foundation began constructing in 2021, will have to request artifacts and records from the archives agency to display at its site, according to its website.
USA TODAY has debunked other claims related to the FBI search, including baseless assertions that Trump appointed Bruce Reinhart as a magistrate judge in 2018 and that there was a leaked call between the head of the FBI and President Joe Biden that proved the FBI raid was unlawful.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Obama took 33 million documents, many of which are classified, to Chicago. The archives agency gained custody of Obama's documents in 2017 as part of the Presidential Records Act, according to a statement. It transferred 30 million unclassified records to a facility in Chicago, and kept the Obama administration's classified records at a facility in the Washington D.C. area. Obama had no say in the process.
Our fact-check sources:
Kel McClanahan, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Kenneth Mayer, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Benjamin Hufbauer, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Bradley Moss, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
National Archives and Records Administration, accessed Aug. 20, Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978
National Archives and Records Administration, Dec. 29, 2009, Executive Order 13526- Classified National Security Information
Associated Press, Aug. 12, Obama didn't keep millions of classified White House documents
National Archives and Records Administration, accessed Oct. 3, Press Statements in Response to Media Queries About Presidential Records
Obama Presidential Center, accessed Aug. 21, INSIDE THE OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL ARCHIVES
Congressional Research Service, Dec. 17, 2019, The Presidential Records Act: An Overview
USA TODAY, Aug. 18, Fact check: No evidence of a leaked call between Biden, FBI director before Mar-a-Lago search
National Archives and Records Administration, accessed Aug. 22, Presidential Libraries Act of 1955
Barack Obama Presidential Library, accessed Aug. 22, About us
National Archives and Records Administration, May 3, 2017, National Archives Announces a New Model for the Preservation and Accessibility of Presidential Records
PolitiFact, Aug. 12, Why Trump is wrong to suggest Obama personally kept '33 million pages of documents'
USA TODAY, Aug. 24, Scribbled notes, classified materials and golf carts: Here's how the millions of White House documents and artifacts should be archived
USA TODAY, March 30, Fact check: False claim that Hillary Clinton was fired during Watergate resurfaces online
USA TODAY, Aug. 12, Fact check: Bruce Reinhart, who approved FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, was not appointed by Trump
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Archives agency is in charge of Barack Obama's records