Fact Check: Trump Responds to Special Counsel Messages with Disproved Claim About Obama and the Bushes


In former President Donald Trump’s first lengthy response to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement Friday that he had appointed a special counsel to oversee criminal investigations into Trump’s retention of government documents following his departure from office, Trump defended himself with dishonesty — he reiterated his duplicity and thoroughly debunked claims about how other ex-presidents have handled official records.

Speaking at a gala at his Mar-a-Lago resort and residence Friday night, Trump asked why there were no investigations into “every other president before me,” including but not limited to Republicans George HW Bush and George W. Bush. Claiming that these past presidents “preserved documents,” he continued, “In one instance, they had it at a Chinese restaurant with the windows broken. And in another case, they had a Chinese restaurant connected to a bowling alley. This is where the documents were kept. They took documents with them. President Obama took documents with him.”

Facts first: Again, Trump’s claims are false — and they have been refuted by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) itself. As NARA explained in an August statement, Barack Obama did not take the presidential documents claimed by Trump. Rather, NARA itself moved documents from the Obama administration to a NARA-managed facility in the Chicago area, near where Obama’s Presidential Library will be built. NARA explains similarly in a statement in October, after Trump added other previous presidents to the unfounded narrative that none of the Bushes took the documents Trump claimed they took. Again, it was NARA that brought the Bushes’ presidential records to facilities NARA managed near where their presidential libraries would be located.

In other words, there is no equivalence between Trump’s situation — in which he allegedly brought hundreds of classified documents, as well as numerous other presidential records, to the resort town and residence of Mar-a-Lago — and the situations, or truly non-situations, of his predecessors .

Trump used Friday’s speech to voice a variety of other criticisms of Garland’s decision to appoint the special counsel, veteran prosecutor Jack Smith. Smith will also oversee a second criminal investigation Trump is involved in into whether anyone “unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election or the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory “on or about” January 6 , 2021. (Smith will not oversee the investigation or prosecution of anyone who physically violated the Capitol that day.)

Trump’s claim that past presidents’ documents were kept insecurely is also false.

The facility that temporarily housed George HW Bush’s presidential documents, in College Station, Texas, was in fact a former bowling alley connected to a former Chinese restaurant. But by the time Bush’s notes arrived, the building had been converted by NARA into a professional archiving facility with extensive security measures and no bowling lanes or equipment.

Though Trump has repeatedly claimed or implied that College Station’s facility is unsafe – this time he said it has “broken windows” – that narrative too is unfounded. In its October statement, NARA said all temporary facilities where it kept past presidents’ documents “meet strict archiving and security standards.” NARA said that “reports suggesting or implying that these presidential records were in the possession of former presidents or their agents after they left office, or that the records were kept in substandard conditions, are false and misleading.”

You don’t have to take NARA’s latest word for it. The Associated Press reported in 1994: “Uniformed guards patrol the compound. There are security monitors and sophisticated electronic detectors on the walls and doors. Some printed material is classified and will remain so for years; it is only accessible to those with top secret clearances.”

After all, it’s no revelation that the property had a colorful past as a restaurant and alley; NARA officials publicly joked about it at the time. It is normal for NARA to lease large buildings that used to serve a different purpose. The Washington Post reported in 1993: “There are no more lanes. No gutters, no pens, no beer. Thanks to a hasty remodeling after last November’s elections, there are a couple of simple offices, a massive fireproof vault and a series of steel shelves filled with cardboard and wooden crates.”

Trump has continued to make these false claims about his predecessors, not only despite the NARA statements debunking them, but despite numerous fact-checks by major media outlets. He also made claims that Obama allegedly took documents in Tuesday’s speech announcing his 2024 presidential candidacy; CNN also fact-checked it at the time.


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