Suppose I work at the White House. The president tells me that he wants to make a phone call and not leave any record of it. Is there actually a way to do this, or is there some system in place in which everything that comes in and out of the White House is logged by an independent body? Is trying to re-classify calls as top secret the best that the White House can do?

Note that I am not asking about legality. I am asking about whether there is a practical way to do it.

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    @JamesK perhaps there are laws governing how the data is handled?
    – JJJ
    Sep 30, 2019 at 22:20
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    The question is really very simple. As the title asks, is there any independent body which oversees the collection of White House records?
    – klojj
    Oct 1, 2019 at 8:39
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    @Jontia No, the independent body would be very relevant, as they would CATCH attempts to destroy records.
    – klojj
    Oct 1, 2019 at 10:56
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    @Jontia The question is whether an independent body has practical control and/or access to records.
    – klojj
    Oct 1, 2019 at 13:07
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    Other countries do solve this problem. There are bodies that are defined as independent from the government, and although set up and appointed by the government are not answerable to them for their actions. The government is not able to discipline them or restrict or enforce actions. Oct 1, 2019 at 20:45

2 Answers 2


[Answer to questions in the question body.]

Suppose I work at the White House.

Then you would have been notified that, beginning in January 2018, personal cell phones and other electronic devices are prohibited from the West Wing, except for the president.

The president tells me that he wants to make a phone call and not leave any record of it.

The president would use their own personal cell phone. If the call is personal, there is no requirement for record. If the call is official and no record is made, then it would violate the Presidential Records Act.

In July 2018, Business Insider reported that President Trump gave his personal cellphone number to various world leaders, having unrecorded conversations with them completely without U.S. officials' knowledge.

Is there actually a way to do this, or is there some system in place in which everything that comes in and out of the White House is logged by an independent body?

The president using a personal cell phone is not logged.

Are all presidential telephone calls logged at the White House?:
[The answerer notes having Worked in the White House for six years]

Yes and No. All Presidential calls that are made through the switchboard are logged both in and out.

But what he makes off his private line are not logged by the switchboard operators. Although we all know that records do exist of all calls and texts. His private calls would be very hard to gain access to. There is nothing to stop him from having a burner prepaid cell phone other than guidelines. ...

Is trying to re-classify calls as top secret the best that the White House can do?

The call that was re-classified was an official call and there was a record.

  • But would a call from a personal cell phone made from the White House be picked up by a government agency monitoring signals in the area? Can it be done without being caught?
    – klojj
    Oct 1, 2019 at 19:55
  • @klojj - Prior to the ban of personal cell phones, there were leaks to the press, from inside the West Wing. Those calls could not be traced to the leakers. In any case, cell phones issued by the government are still permitted and all calls on those phones are, at least, logged.
    – Rick Smith
    Oct 1, 2019 at 20:03
  • Are you saying these calls were monitored and traced back to being made from inside the West Wing?
    – klojj
    Oct 1, 2019 at 20:08
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    How do you know that the President using their own personal cell phone would not be logged? Perhaps not officially; however, do you think the NSA (and/or the cellular network provider) would not be intercepting that, as they would for any other citizen? Practically nothing that anyone does with their cell phone or on the internet is actually 'private' any more (unless they are using a VPN, etc.).
    – Time4Tea
    Oct 1, 2019 at 20:29
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    You also don't address the question in the title, about whether there is any independent body or mechanism in place to prevent the White House from destroying the officially-logged calls. (I am also interested in the legality of the President using their personal cell phone for official state business, but that might be better as a separate question.)
    – Time4Tea
    Oct 1, 2019 at 21:02

[Answer to title question.]

Is there any independent body that oversees the White House to prevent it from destroying records?

There is no independent body for that purpose.

The Presidential Records Act:

  • Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.

  • Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he or she has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States [see below] on the proposed disposal.

    In June 2018, Politico [see below] reported that President Donald Trump frequently and routinely would tear up papers he received, resulting in government officials taping them together for archiving to ensure that Trump did not violate the Presidential Records Act.

  • Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.

Archivist of the United States:

The Archivist is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate and is responsible for safeguarding and making available for study all the permanently valuable records of the federal government, including the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, which are displayed in the Archives' main building in Washington, D.C.

From Politico Meet the guys who tape Trump's papers back together, 06/10/2018.

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law.

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Lartey and his colleagues to reassemble.

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