WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump isn’t the first to face criticism for flouting rules and traditions around the safeguarding of sensitive government records, but national security experts say recent revelations point to an unprecedented disregard of post-presidency norms established after the Watergate era.
Document dramas have cropped up from time to time over the years.
Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s national security adviser held onto explosive records for years before turning them over to the Johnson presidential library. The records showed that the campaign of his successor, Richard Nixon, was secretly communicating in the final days of the 1968 presidential race with the South Vietnamese government in an effort to delay the opening of peace talks to end the Vietnam War.
A secretary in Ronald Reagan’s administration, Fawn Hall, testified that she altered and helped shred documents related to the Iran-Contra affair to protect Oliver North, her boss at the White House National Security Council.
Barack Obama’s CIA director, David Petraeus, was forced to resign and pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for sharing classified material with a biographer with whom he was having an affair. Hillary Clinton, while Obama’s secretary of state, faced FBI scrutiny that extended into her 2016 presidential campaign against Trump for her handling of highly classified material in a private email account. The FBI director recommended no criminal charges but criticized Clinton for her “extremely careless” behavior.
As more details emerge from last month’s FBI search of Trump’s Florida home, the Justice Department has painted a portrait of an indifference for the rules on a scale that some thought inconceivable after establishment of the Presidential Records Act in 1978.
“I cannot think of a historical precedent in which there was even the suspicion that a president or even a high-ranking officer in the administration, with the exception of the Nixon administration, purposely and consciously or even accidentally removing such a sizable volume of papers,” said Richard Immerman, who served as assistant deputy director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009.
FBI agents who searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Aug. 8 found more than 100 documents with classification markings, including 18 marked top secret, 54 secret and 31 confidential, according to court filings. The FBI also identified 184 documents marked as classified in 15 boxes recovered by the National Archives in January, and it received additional classified documents during a June visit to Mar-a-Lago. An additional 10,000 other government records with no classification markings were also found.
That could violate the Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and must be preserved.
That law was enacted after Nixon resigned from office in the midst of the Watergate scandal and sought to destroy hundreds of hours of secretly recorded White House tapes. It established government ownership of presidential records starting with Ronald Reagan.
The act specifies that immediately after a president leaves office, the National Archives and Records Administration takes legal and physical custody of the outgoing administration’s records and begins to work with the incoming White House staff on appropriate records management.
According to the National Archives, records that have no “administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value” can be disposed of before obtaining the archivist’s written permission.
Documents have been recovered from Trump’s bedroom, closet, bathroom and storage areas at his Florida resort, which doubles as his home. In June, when Justice Department officials met a Trump lawyer to retrieve records in response to a subpoena, the lawyer handed them documents in a “Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape.”
Trump has claimed he declassified all the documents in his possession and had been working in earnest with department officials on returning documents when they conducted the Mar-a-Lago search. During the 2016 campaign, Trump asserted that Clinton’s use of her private email server for sensitive State Department material was disqualifying for her candidacy; chants from his supporters to “lock her up” became a mainstay at his political rallies.
James Trusty, a lawyer for Trump in the records matter, said on Fox News that Trump’s possession of the sensitive government material was equivalent to hanging on to an “overdue library book.”
But Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr, said in a separate Fox News interview that he was “skeptical” of Trump’s claim that he declassified everything. “People say this (raid) was unprecedented — well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, OK,” Barr said.
Trump’s attitude about White House records is not so surprising to some who worked for him.
One of Trump’s national security advisers, John Bolton, said briefers quickly learned that Trump often tried to hang onto sensitive documents, and they took steps to make sure documents didn’t go missing. Classified information was tweeted, shared with reporters and adversaries — even found in a White House complex bathroom.
That approach is out of step with how modern-day presidents have operated.
Obama, while writing his White House memoir after leaving office, had paper records he used in his research delivered to him in locked bags from a secure National Archives storage facility and returned them in similar fashion.
Dwight Eisenhower, who left office years before the Presidential Records Act was passed, kept official records secure at Fort Ritchie, Maryland, even though there was no requirement for him to do so.
Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel during the final years of the Obama administration, recalled that Fred Fielding, who held the same position in the George W. Bush administration, advised him as he started his new job to hammer home to staff the requirements set in the records act.
Similarly, Trump’s White House counsel, Donald McGahn, sent a staff-wide memo in the first weeks of the administration underscoring “that presidential records are the property of the United States.”
“It’s not a hard concept that documents prepared during the course of our presidential administration are not your personal property or the president’s personal properties,” Eggleston said.
Presidents are not required to obtain security clearances to access intelligence or formally instructed on their responsibilities to safeguard secrets when they leave office, said Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA officer and senior director of the White House Situation Room.
But guidelines issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence agencies, require that any “sensitive compartmented information” –- some of the highest-value intelligence the U.S. possesses –- be viewed only in secure rooms known as “SCIFs.”
The FBI, in a court filing, this past week included a photo of some of the records that agents discovered in the search of Trump’s estate. The photo showed cover sheets on at least five sets of papers that are marked “TOP SECRET/SCI,” a reference to sensitive compartmented information, as well as a cover sheet labeled “SECRET/SCI” and “Contains sensitive compartmented information.” The FBI also found dozens of empty folders marked classified, with nothing inside and no explanation of what might have been there.
A president can keep reports presented during a briefing for later review. And presidents –- or nominees for president during an election year -– aren’t always briefed in a SCIF, depending on their schedules and locations, Pfeiffer said.
“There’s no intelligence community directive that says how presidents should or shouldn’t be briefed on the materials,” said Pfeiffer, now director of the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. “We’ve never had to worry about it before.”
People around the president with access to intelligence are trained on intelligence rules on handling classified information and required to follow them. But imposing restrictions on the president would be difficult for intelligence agencies, Pfeiffer said, because “by virtue of being the executive of the executive branch, he sets all the rules with regard to secrecy and classification.”
President Joe Biden told reporters recently that he often reads his top secret Presidential Daily Briefing at his home in Delaware, where he frequently spends his weekends and holidays. But Biden said he takes precautions to make certain the document stays secure.
“I have in my home a cabined-off space that is completely secure,” Biden said.
He added: “I read it. I lock it back up and give it to the military.”
Associated Press reporter Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.
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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges
LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.
Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”
Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.
Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.
The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.
If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.
The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.
Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.
Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.
Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”
Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.
Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.
Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.
Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.
She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.
Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.
Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”
Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.
“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.
Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.
A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.
Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.
Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.
Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.
Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.
The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.
“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.
The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.
The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.
For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.
Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.
In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.
Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.
The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.
Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.
The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.
The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.
“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”
President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”
In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.
The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.
The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.