The FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home as part of an investigation into whether he improperly took documents from the White House was celebrated by some as proof that no one is above the law and denounced by others as a political attack. Little is known about the aims of Department of Justice investigators and what evidence they may have gathered. There are laws governing how presidents are supposed to handle documents that, at least theoretically, can trigger prosecutions for failure to comply, chief among them the Presidential Records Act. But as with so much related to Trump’s time in office, the search appears to have landed investigators in uncharted territory.
It’s a law enacted by Congress in 1978 as one of several post-Watergate measures aimed at combating potential corruption in the White House. President Richard Nixon had challenged the legality of a predecessor to the PRA, which sought to prevent him from destroying any of 42 million page of documents and 880 tape recordings from his time in office, but the US Supreme Court said Congress had the authority to regulate presidential documents both for posterity and to ensure their availability for criminal prosecutions.