National Archives Head Says Agency ‘Fiercely Non-Political’ After Anti-Trump Accusations

National Archives Head Says Agency ‘Fiercely Non-Political’ After Anti-Trump Accusations
Acting Archivist Debra Wall. (National Archives and Records Administration)
Zachary Stieber

The acting head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has said that the agency is not against former President Donald Trump.

“The National Archives has been the focus of intense scrutiny for months, this week especially, with many people ascribing political motivation to our actions. NARA has received messages from the public accusing us of corruption and conspiring against the former President, or congratulating NARA for ‘bringing him down.’ Neither is accurate or welcome,” Debra Wall, the acting archivist, said in an Aug. 24 message to staff members that was made public on Aug. 30.

“For the past 30-plus years as a NARA career civil servant, I have been proud to work for a uniquely and fiercely non-political government agency, known for its integrity and its position as an ‘honest broker.’ This notion is in our establishing laws and in our very culture. I hold it dear, and I know you do, too,” she added.

“Our fundamental interest is always in ensuring that government records are properly managed, preserved, and protected to ensure access to them for the life of the Republic. That is our mission, and what motivates us as we seek to uphold the public trust. I thank all of you for your dedication to that mission and your professionalism and integrity in carrying it out in a non-political and diligent manner.”

NARA and Wall have come under scrutiny due to the handling of records from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

“Angry, unfulfilled, partisan bureaucrats at the National Archives decided they would sic the FBI, at whim, on President Trump for purely political reasons,” Stephen Miller, who was a top adviser to the president during the Trump administration, said during a recent appearance on Fox News.

Boxes Transferred; Wall Decides on Privilege Claim

Fifteen boxes were transferred from the resort to NARA in January, when Wall’s predecessor David Ferriero was still in charge. NARA said that the boxes contained classified records. Some were torn up and taped back together; others that had been torn up weren’t reconstructed by the White House, according to Ferriero.
President Joe Biden’s administration asked NARA months later to let FBI agents review the materials, and deferred to Wall on Trump’s claim of executive privilege, according to a May letter made public earlier this month. Wall ultimately rejected the claim. Agents accessed the materials in May, according to an unsealed search warrant affidavit. That document convinced a U.S. judge to sign off on a warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which agents executed on Aug. 8.

Wall spent some of the new message defending her choice to reject the privilege claim, saying she was not able to find a precedent for an assertion of the privilege against an incumbent president by a former president.

Debra Wall. (National Archives and Records Administration)
Debra Wall. (National Archives and Records Administration)

In separate letters to Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Wall said that the Department of Justice has been “exclusively responsible” for the investigation into the classified materials since NARA referred the matter to the department in early 2022.

“NARA has not been involved in the DOJ investigation or any searches that it has conducted. Accordingly, NARA is unable to provide a briefing or any documents in response to your letter, and we refer you to the DOJ,” Wall told Comer, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, and Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “Please note, however, that NARA is preserving all records related to this matter.”

Ferriero was appointed by former President Barack Obama. Ferriero appointed Wall as deputy archivist. Wall became the acting archivist after Ferriero stepped down in April. “It’s important to me, that this administration replace me,” Ferriero told the Washington Post. “I’m concerned about what’s going to happen in 2024. I don’t want it left to … the unknowns of the presidential election.”

Ferriero, a white male, also said he hopes he’s not replaced by a white male.