When President Donald Trump or a member of his staff deletes a tweet, they may be violating federal law, two top congressmen warned the White House this week.
Serious question. Can Trump legally delete Tweets? Presidential Records Act has to come into play here.
Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn on Wednesday expressing concerns about the Trump administration’s record keeping habits and its nontransparent use of social media and other forms of electronic communication.
One example the lawmakers cited is Trump’s habit of misspelling and then deleting tweets, which they warned “could pose a violation to the Presidential Records Act” if the deleted tweets are not archived.
“Many of the messages sent from these accounts are likely to be presidential records and therefore must be preserved,” they wrote, referring to both Trump’s personal @realDonaldTrump account and his official @POTUS account. “It has been reported, however, that President Trump has deleted tweets, and if those tweets were not archived, it could pose a violation of the Presidential Records Act,” Chaffetz and Cummings wrote in the letter.
Trump sometimes deletes tweets due to spelling errors. Over the weekend, he deleted two tweets that misspelled the word “hereby.”
Under former President Barack Obama, White House digital staffers instituted a system of auto-archiving tweets from the president and other top officials.
“We eventually set up auto-archiving for official platforms, so errors could be corrected while preserving the original,” Ezra Mechaber, a former deputy director in the White House’s office of digital strategy, tweeted in January.
Those tweets are now the property of the National Archives and Records Administration.
In their letter, Chaffetz and Cummings also asked the White House to investigate whether federal officials are using personal email accounts for government business. Under the Presidential Records Act, White House officials must forward emails sent from those accounts to their government account within 20 days. The same is true of employees at federal agencies, under the Federal Records Act.
“Official business must be conducted in such a way as to preserve the official record of actions taken by the federal government and its employees,” they wrote.
They also raised ethical concerns about the use of apps like Signal and Confide, which encrypt messages and, in some cases, delete them once they’re received.
“The need for data security, however, does not justify circumventing requirements established by federal recordkeeping and transparency laws,” the lawmakers wrote.
Chaffetz and Cummings suggested that they may consider updating the laws to reflect “trends in federal employees’ use of technology.”
In the meantime, they asked the White House to conduct trainings on proper record keeping and archiving of social media, email and other electronic messaging systems, and urged the administration to clarify its policies and procedures on such matters.
The White House did not respond to a request for a comment.