How the Trump administration is putting public records under threat, so history may never know the awful things they did

Many abuses of the Trump administration are sadly nothing out of the ordinary — rather, they’re just continuations of the snowballing precedent of presidential power abuses set forth by their predecessors. But there are still some ways in which Trump’s real estate legal bullying tactics have made for a uniquely terrible and dangerous situation. Consider his liberal use of non-disclosure agreements that trap public servants — people whose should be part of the public record to which they should be held accountable — in a catch-22 between legal transparency and legal retaliation.

But it goes further than that, too.

The National Archives have already been struggling to keep up with the paper records that the President has destroyed — a clear violation of the Presidential Records Act. Archivists have allegedly been fired when trying to piece together those little scraps of paperwork. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the administration has now made it an official policy that records of ICE abuses be treated as temporary documents, immune from the eye of history. From the New York Times:

In 2017, a normally routine document released by the archives, a records retention schedule, revealed that archivists had agreed that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement could delete or destroy documents detailing the sexual abuse and death of undocumented immigrants. Tens of thousands of people posted critical comments, and dozens of senators and representatives objected. The National Archives made some changes to the plan, but last month it announced that ICE could go ahead and start destroying records from Mr. Trump’s first year, including detainees’ complaints about civil rights violations and shoddy medical care.

It’s not just ICE. The Department of the Interior and the National Archives have decided to delete files on endangered species, offshore drilling inspections and the safety of drinking water. The department even claimed that papers from a case where it mismanaged Native American land and assets — resulting in a multibillion-dollar legal settlement — would be of no interest to future historians (or anyone else).

In other words, there won’t just be a lack of justice for those who illegally and immorally suffered at the hands of ICE — there will be no proof that such suffering ever even happened. Except for the words of the victims, that is, who likely be deported, or too traumatized to speak up anyway.

This is a clear manifestation of every fear about totalitarian governments re-writing history to shape the present day. And it gets worse. Just this past Friday, the Trump administration empowered ICE’s parent organization, Customs and Border Protection, with the same kind of privileges that protect the Intelligence Community, empowering and enabling the FBI, CIA, an others to get with all kinds of cruel and malicious behavior. From The Nation:

On Friday, the Trump administration quietly designated the entire Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which polices US borders, as a “Security Agency,” according to an internal memo obtained by The Nation. This follows repeated attempts by federal immigration authorities to dramatically expand their reach in recent years.

The memo, which was signed by CBP’s Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan and dated January 31, places CBP under the same designation as highly secretive intelligence and law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Secret Service. This grants CBP greater secrecy by exempting certain records from disclosure to the public.

For all that Trump and his cronies have complained about the FBI allegedly abusing its power in spying on him during the 2016 presidential campaign (the rare occasion where they may have actually been using their powers for good), this just further embeds the untouchable Eldritch creep of terrifying government oversight with no accountability. That’s not the “small government” to which Republicans give lip service; it’s the setup for a pure authoritarian empire.

Exclusive: Customs and Border Protection Gains an Extra Layer of Secrecy [Ken Klippenstein / The Nation]

Opinion | Why You May Never Learn the Truth About ICE [Matthew Connelly / The New York Times]

Image: Jetta Disco/CBP