As everyone who has ever heard of Donald J. Trump knows, the 45th president of the United States just loves to tweet. He frequently uses his has two Twitter accounts; a personal one (@realDonaldTrump) and the official account of the president (@POTUS). His way of reaching the public and avoiding the media he is not crazy about is to use Twitter in a big way.
Like other Twitter users, he deletes tweets after they are sent because he does not like what he has just tweeted out. Many times the president deletes tweets and then sends out another one or two because the previous ones contained spelling mistakes. Although there is nothing wrong with ordinary people doing this, Trump is no ordinary person. Because he is the president, deleting tweets for whatever reason may be a violation of federal law.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to White House counsel Dan McGahn II. The letter was signed by Chairman Jason Cheffetz (R-UT) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and the letter, written with bipartisan support, warned the president he may be breaking the law.
The letter states
the tweets can be considered government records and as such, deleting them for whatever reason could be considered a breach of the law against destroying such public records.
The Presidential Records Act
(PRA) became law in 1978, shortly after the Watergate scandal. The legislation governs all presidential and vice-presidential communications made after Jan. 20, 1981. The PRA changed the category of presidential communications from private to public and put the control of these communications in the hands of the Archivist of the United States.
The PRA also makes the incumbent president responsible for all presidential communications and a president who wants to dispose of records because they have no value, must consult with the Archivist. The president must also ensure public communications are kept separately from private communications. Since the advent of the Internet and social media, these rules were made applicable to newer forms of communication.
The rules that apply to the president also apply to the vice-president.
In a separate letter,
the Oversight Committee warned about using private accounts to conduct government business; something that caused problems for Hillary Clinton. The committee also warned the White House about using encrypted messaging systems. Although they understand the need for security, security does not override the nation's transparency laws.
As the following illustrates, Trump sometimes makes typos in his tweets. It took him three times to get the word “hereby” right and he deleted the first two tweets containing typos. It appears in order to comply with the law, if Trump wants to delete a tweet with a typo, he will have to get the permission from the U.S. Archivist.
The White House has been given until Mar. 22 to reply to Congress.