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Watchdog and historical groups sue White House over preserving records

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Washington — A coalition of historical and government watchdog groups are suing the White House and President Trump over concerns that records from his presidency will be lost or destroyed in violation of federal law.

The lawsuit from the National Security Archive, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, American Historical Association and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington seeks to prevent Mr. Trump from destroying any records during his final weeks in office.

"With President Trump's term in office soon coming to an end, absent judicial intervention this conduct will permanently deprive plaintiffs and the public of records documenting a critical part of our nation's history," the groups said in their complaint filed with the federal district court in Washington on Tuesday.

The organizations specifically take issue with a policy that allows White House employees to preserve records by taking a screenshot and sending it to an official account. They contend the method fails to capture the message's associated metadata, attachments and other digital artifacts and runs afoul of the Presidential Records Act, a law enacted after the Watergate scandal that governs the records of presidents and vice presidents.

"From the outset of his presidency, President Trump has shown a disregard, if not an outright disdain, for his recordkeeping obligations under the PRA," the groups argue in their suit. "His actions and those of his aides pose an unacceptable risk that valuable historical records will be irretrievably lost."

In addition to taking aim at Mr. Trump, the lawsuit claims other White House officials — namely senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law — have demonstrated a "shocking disregard" for recordkeeping obligations under the law.

Kushner, who has used WhatsApp and other private email accounts to discuss government business, according to Politico and congressional testimony, would preserve records from his WhatsApp account by taking screenshots and sending them to his White House email.

The groups are asking the court to invalidate the White House's screenshotting policy and order Mr. Trump, Kushner and other White House staff to preserve complete copies of presidential records that were kept under the screenshotting policy.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said "the Trump Administration acts in accordance with statutory requirements."

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