Trump Tweets Would Be Archived Under COVFEFE Act

RTX1OV08
Donald Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, on August 19, 2015. Trump's use of Twitter has been criticized; under a newly proposed bill, his practice of deleting tweets would be in violation of the Presidential Records Act. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

President Donald Trump’s taking to Twitter to attack his enemies and engage his supporters has become one of the defining characteristics of his presidency. But his tendency to delete tweets, oftentimes to fix a typo, has some questioning if the president has violated the 1978 Presidential Records Act.  

On Monday, Rep. Mike Quigley introduced The Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement (COVFEFE) Act, which will update the law to include social media. The National Archives and Records Administration has already instructed the Trump administration to keep records of all tweets, but the COVFEFE Act would update the law to confirm the National Archives and Records Administration’s guidance.

The president tweeted and then deleted “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” just after midnight May 31, setting off internet hysteria. While most assumed Trump had made a typo, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “the president and a small group of people knew exactly what he meant.”

In a statement, Quigley said the change was needed to ensure that Trump’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump, is covered under the Presidential Records Act. Also, including social media under the PRA would make the deletion of tweets a violation of the law.

“If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference,” Quigley said in his statement. “Tweets are powerful, and the President must be held accountable for every post.”  

The National Archives and Record Administration instructed the Trump administration to preserve all of Trump’s tweets, including the deleted ones. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero wrote a letter to respond to questions from two senators, saying the White House had told him they were preserving the records.

While the Obama administration used an automated system to save President Obama’s tweets, Ferreiro's letter did not say if the Trump administration was using a similar system.

“Everyone agrees that these electronic communications meet the Act’s broad definition of presidential records, and that the White House is legally required to preserve them,” Malcolm Phillips, the former director of digital strategy in the Obama administration, wrote during President Obama’s first year in office.

Trump has used @realDonaldTrump similarly to how he used it as a private citizen and candidate. Trump is known for his often controversial late-night and early-morning tweets. As president, he has accused former President Obama of wiretapping him, hinted he secretly recorded conversations with former FBI Director James Comey and promoted the unsubstantiated claim that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.   

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president and one of Trump's top aides, has criticized the media for its "obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as President." But the courts have taken Trump's tweets seriously, using them in rulings against his proposed travel ban. Also, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the tweets "official statements."    

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 transferred ownership of presidential records from the individual president to the public. It's the president’s responsibility to keep all records, unless the president gets permission from the Archivist of the United States to dispose of those records.

The law’s predecessor, the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, placed former President Richard Nixon’s records into federal custody post-Watergate to ensure he did not destroy records from his administration. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, has raised concerns that the Trump administration is not properly maintaining its records. Reports that Trump aides are using encrypted apps to conceal their internal communications in violation of the PRA are also raising questions.