At a rally for Nevada Republicans on Saturday, former President Donald Trump argued against a federal investigation into the storage of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, falsely implying that previous presidents had done the same.
Trump claimed that Barack Obama moved “truckloads” of documents to a former furniture store in Chicago, that Bill Clinton traveled files “from the White House to a former car dealership in Arkansas” and that George H. W. Bush “took million documents in a former bowling alley and a former Chinese restaurant where they were combined.”
In fact, National Archives and Records Administration staff, not former presidents, moved presidential records to those facilities for temporary sorting and storage, according to security protocols in the process, according to NARA statements and an Associated Press report.
That’s very different from Trump having classified documents from his presidency in various storage rooms at his Florida estate, said Timothy Naftali, a professor of public service and history at New York University.
“Obviously, it takes time to build a presidential library. During this period of time, the National Archives must place these presidential records somewhere safe,” Naftali said. “They don’t go into closets in public clubs.”
A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here’s a closer look at the facts.
TRUMP: Bush “took millions of documents to a former bowling alley and a former Chinese restaurant where they combined them. So they’re in a bowling alley Chinese restaurant.”
THE DETAILS: While the idea of the elder Bush hiding documents in a combination bowling alley and Chinese restaurant inspired colorful reactions online, it’s not accurate.
NARA archivists, not Bush, moved the documents to what was once the Chimney Hill Bowl in College Station, Texas, according to an AP report at the time. They turned it into a warehouse, swapping the bowling lanes for shelving, where they could store the boxes of documents. To accommodate everything, they also chose a former Chinese restaurant next door.
Under the Presidential Records Act, NARA has custody of all presidential records from former administrations. The agency is responsible for classifying the documents and storing them securely until a presidential library is established to house them.
In the case of the Bush documents, the temporary storage facility used by NARA archivists was protected by guards, television monitors and electronic scanners while sorting through the documents, the AP reported at the time. They were later moved to the George HW Bush Presidential Library and Museum, also in College Station, where they reside today.
Trump’s comments were intended to play down the fact that he had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago by saying that Bush kept his own documents in an old bowling alley, Naftali said.
“But that’s complete nonsense,” he said. “These are buildings that were taken over by the National Archives, renovated to meet archival standards and security, and then put the materials in there.”
Benjamin Hufbauer, a professor at the University of Louisville who researches presidential libraries, agreed that Trump’s claim was incorrect. “It really is apples to oranges,” he said.
TRUMP: Clinton ‘took millions of documents from the White House to a former car dealership in Arkansas.’
THE FACTS: Clinton didn’t take documents to a former car dealership, NARA did.
NARA announced in May 2000 that it would move documents from the Clinton presidency to a storage facility in Little Rock, Arkansas, that was the Balch Motor Company. The facility, which was leased by NARA, was less than 2 miles from what later became the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, where the documents are kept today.
TRUMP: Obama “moved more than 20 truckloads, over 33 million pages of documents, classified and unclassified, to a shoddy and completely unsafe former furniture store located in a rather bad neighborhood in Chicago, with no security, by the way.”
THE FACTS: Again, NARA, not Obama, moved these documents — and followed its own storage standards in the process, the agency said.
About 30 million unclassified Obama administration documents reside in a Chicago-area building once owned by the Plunkett furniture company, according to county and local government records.
These documents are stored in accordance with the agency’s recordkeeping standards, according to NARA. These standards include things like fire safety, pest management, and security guidelines for certain types of documents.
Comments a NARA official gave to the city’s zoning commission before the end of Obama’s term also stipulated that the facility would be guarded overnight.
Classified administration documents are stored in separate secure locations in the Washington, DC area.
This is part of the AP’s effort to combat widespread misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about data control in AP.