Obama failed to keep millions of classified White House documents

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CLAIM: Former President Barack Obama brought 30 million documents, many of them classified, to Chicago when he left the White House.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The Obama administration’s records are kept and maintained solely by the National Archives and Records Administration, the federal agency confirmed Friday. Millions of unclassified documents were transferred to a NARA facility in Chicago after Obama left office, but neither Obama’s personal foundation nor the facility designed to house his presidential memorabilia have control over these papers.

THE FACTS: Amid mounting revelations In connection with the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, a counter-narrative circulating online—including by Trump himself—posits that Obama was similarly in possession of White House documents after his term in office.

“President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, many of them secret. How many of these were related to nuclear energy? It says many!” Trump posted on Friday on Truth Social, the social network he founded.

“OBAMA took 30 million documents leaving the WHITE HOUSE and no FBI raid,” read a tweet posted Tuesday, the day after the FBI raid, which had amassed nearly 20,000 likes as of Friday.

But those records were turned over to NARA in 2017, after the end of Obama’s term in office, and remain in NARA’s sole custody in accordance with federal law. Some 30 million documents were brought in as an agency to a Chicago-area facility operated by NARA explained in a statement Friday, but none have been classified. The government’s classified documents are held at a separate NARA facility in the Washington, DC area.

Presidential libraries and the documents they contain are managed by NARA belong to the agency, which also manages related requests for public records. But the Obama Presidential Library doesn’t have a physical location; it is that first completely virtual. About 95 percent of the Obama administration’s documents were “born digital‘, meaning they don’t have a ‘hardcopy’ version and don’t need to be digitized, according to NARA.

Separately, in 2021 construction began on the Obama Presidential Center, a complex in Chicago managed by the privately held Obama Foundation. But because the center will not be affiliated with NARA, the Obama Foundation will need to request a loan any artifacts or records intended to be displayed there by the government. The foundation provided funds to NARA to digitize the Obama administration’s paper documents, but NARA itself is responsible for actually handling them. according to the agency.

A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Benjamin Hufbauer, a professor at the University of Louisville and a researcher in the President’s Libraries, reiterated that no White House records remain in Obama’s personal possession. They are “owned by the nation,” he told The Associated Press in an email.

The FBI asked “Top Secret” records from Mar-a-Lago, including some with particularly sensitive information, according to court filings released Friday, the AP reported Friday. The search warrant said agents were investigating possible violations of three federal laws, including rules on the collection and transmission of defense intelligence under the Espionage Act.

The fact that such classified papers were reportedly confiscated directly from Trump’s estate is the key difference between Trump’s records and Obama’s, Hufbauer said. “Even though there are copies of these documents in the national archives (which almost certainly exist), sensitive documents, such as those on nuclear secrets, must be kept in a secure facility and access to them is very tightly controlled,” he said.

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This is part of AP’s efforts to address widespread misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about fact checking at AP.

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