With all the shenanigans regarding former President Trump's Presidential Records, especially with regards to paper documents and some of them being torn up and taped back together - I would like to know what exactly is considered to be a "Presidential Record"?

Everything that is put on paper? Every note? Every notebook that staff use? Everything that is put in the trash?

To what extent can the POTUS and the staff use shredders for sensitive documents? Or are shredders not used in those cases?

I'm kind of confused.


1 Answer 1


I think the best answer to this question is to point you to the definition of a presidential record in law; 44 U.S.C § 2201 (2) states:

The term “Presidential records” means documentary materials, or any reasonably seg­regable portion thereof, created or received by the President, the President’s immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise or assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President. Such term—

  • (A) includes any documentary materials relating to the political activities of the President or members of the President’s staff, but only if such activities relate to or have a direct effect upon the carrying out of constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President; but
  • (B) does not include any documentary materials that are
    • (i) official records of an agency (as defined in section 552(e) of title 5, United States Code);
    • (ii) personal records;
    • (iii) stocks of publications and stationery; or
    • (iv) extra copies of documents produced only for convenience of reference, when such copies are clearly so identified.

So yes, the answer is that everything put on paper relating to the matters in subsection (A) falls under this definition, provided it is not subject to the exclusions in subsection (B). Note the exception made for "personal records", which is defined later in that section - an example given is "diaries, journals, or other personal notes serving as the functional equivalent of a diary or journal which are not prepared or utilized for, or circulated or communicated in the course of, transacting Government business". In addition, § 2203 (c) states:

During the President’s term of office, the President may dispose of those Presidential records of such President that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value if—

  • (1) the President obtains the views, in writing, of the Archivist concerning the proposed disposal of such Presidential records; and
  • (2) the Archivist states that the Archivist does not intend to take any action under subsection (e) of this section.

Subsection (e) relates to the Archivist requesting the advice of certain Congressional committees as to whether the record should be retained.

Apart from these exceptions, all records must be retained and not shredded or otherwise disposed of. As a check on the release of secret or sensitive documents, an outgoing President may determine a time period not exceeding twelve years during which access to a specific record should be restricted (so long as the record falls in certain categories - see § 2204). Additionally, all other records are only subject to public release under 5 U.S. Code § 552, which contains plenty of provisions by which the publication of sensitive documents may be restricted.

  • 1
    So the Archivist will decide if a document is worthy of being kept in the archives; and that there a staff at the White House (for example) that will collect all those documents and keep them.
    – Max
    Feb 2, 2022 at 15:45
  • 5
    @Max Pretty much - but it's kind of the other way around; all documents need to be collected and retained unless the Archivist explicitly says otherwise.
    – CDJB
    Feb 2, 2022 at 15:47

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