Would the Use of Burner Phones by Trump Violate the Presidential Records Act?

The House Select Committee is reportedly investigating a gap of seven hours and 37 minutes (11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m) in telephone calls on January 6th for President Donald Trump. That reported gap led to questions of whether Trump used “burner phones” to evade any record of calls. It is still too early to determine the cause or responsibility for this alleged gap. However, Trump magnified concerns when he claimed to have never even heard the term “burner phone,” let alone knew what it means. The far more serious question, however, is whether Trump or his aides or allies actively sought to conceal communications during that critical period. There have been claims that the use of such phones would violate the Presidential Records Act. I do not believe that it would be a technical violation of the PRA.

President Trump Trump told the Washington Post “I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.” That left many skeptical given the ubiquitous use of this term in society.

Moreover, John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser (and now critic) directly contradicted Trump and said that he personally discussed burner phones with the President.

I recently testified in the United States Senate on the danger posed by new forms of communication, including messaging systems designed to delete records of messages. Electronic records are part of the coverage of the Presidential Records Act.

The telephone logs are covered by the PRA as a record to be turned over to the National Archives. However, there is no accusation of destroying the telephone log itself. George H.W. Bush’s administration was accused of destroying telephone logs and records. The question is whether the use of burner phones violates the PRA. I am skeptical that it does. A president could use anyone’s phone during his travels or interactions. That does not violate the PRA.

Jason Baron, the former director of litigation at the National Archives, testified with me before the Senate committee. He is exceptionally knowledgable on the PRA and has an incredible legacy in fighting for the preservation of such records. He notably told the New York Times that the use of such phones might “violate the spirit” of the PRA. That is certainly true if a president employed burner phones to avoid the logging of calls. However, it would not, in my view, be a clear violation of specific provisions under the Act.

That does not mean that Congress does not have a legitimate interest in finding out if burner phones were used and, more importantly, finding out the timeline and subjects of calls made on that critical day.

 

256 thoughts on “Would the Use of Burner Phones by Trump Violate the Presidential Records Act?”

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/31/politics/mystery-call-gap-trump-jan-6-white-house-phone-logs/index.html

    Not so mysterious after all.

    From the article:

    “Another factor seems to be where Trump was when he made certain calls. All the calls noted from the January 6 log indicate they were made from the White House residence, suggesting Trump relied on the switchboard to put those calls through. The missing calls appear to start when the diary notes Trump has moved from the residence to the Oval Office.

    Trump used the switchboard more often when he was in the private residence, according to multiple sources. But when he was in the Oval Office, the former President would often direct aides sitting outside his office to get certain lawmakers or allies of his on the phone.”

  2. Burner phones: Who cares? The left is always preparing to cheat and steal. Some on the left are thought to have been involved in the deaths of people they didn’t like.
    —-
    Over 60,000 voters on NC rolls are dead, registered twice or enrolled in other state, report warns

    1. Talking about cheating and stealing, we have a man admitting he was one of the 51 and nothing will happen to him.

      Ex-CIA official who signed letter warning Hunter Biden laptop story was disinfo proud Trump lost

      “I take special pride in personally swinging the election away from Trump,” John Sipher, a former CIA deputy chief of Russian Operations, recently posted on Twitter. “I lost the election for Trump? Well then I [feel] pretty good about my influence.”

      1. Epstein is right to remind people that Ashley Babbitt was murdered on that day. Pelosi and the Democrats have not thoroughly investigated the murder and made sure that the public knows why the left believes she had to be killed.

      2. Ashli Babbitt was an unarmed, 105 pound woman. A loving wife and daughter. An Air Force veteran who served our nation with distinction. Shot in the neck by the Capitol Police police. Ashli did not deserve to die.

        Emblematic of the moral rot that has consumed the progressive left, Democrats celebrate her death because she was a Trump supporter. Meanwhile, her killer is free as a Byrd.

  3. The House Select Committee must do whatever it can to attempt to find fault with Trump, manufacturing whatever fake evidence will help accompish that goal. And ex-CIA officers can sign a letter asserting Trump’s “likely guilt” based on their purported “extensive analysis” and “vast experience,” while simultaneously acknowledging that they have no basis whatsoever for their assertions, so nobody can accuse them of lying. Surley, Perkins Coie LLP, working in concert with the House Select Committee and the ex-CIA officers, can be engaged again to invent some fraudulent rubbish that it can pass along to the New York Times and the Washington Post Presstitutes as their next scam to pull on the public. Then, the House Select Committee can cite both the “undisputed research” of the Presstitutes, Perkins Coie LLP, and the ex-COA officers as “proof” of Trump’s guilt. The House Select Committee must do anything but investigate actual criminals, includingg the Criminal Biden Family and its own House Criminals.

  4. Conducting the business of the president of the united states in a fashion to avoid records would likely violate the PRA.

    Conducting the Affairs of Donald Trump would not.

    The PRA can not cover the non-official conduct of the president – and that includes his conduct as a political candidate without being unconstitutional.

    No the House does not have sufficient interest – honestly in almost anything related to 1/6.

    Congress’s investigatory power is over Government – not individuals. Congress oversight is over government – not private actors.

    I am aware that is not the current position of the courts – but as in so many things – the courts are wrong.

    When you read the constitution and the law broadly – you end up with a mess.

    Both the states and the federal government have entities charge with investigating the misconduct of private individuals – that would be law enforcement.

    Trump has broken the left, the courts, and Prof. Turley.

    And the price will be paid by future presidents and purported poilical enemies.

    I would note that Trump was impeached for seeking that a politically valuable investigation be conducted by actually legitimate investigative bodies, where there was reasonable suspicion that misconduct occured.

    If Republicans take the House or Senate in 2022 what prevents them from mounting their own investigation of Hunter Biden ?

    While there is ample evidence that a thorough investigation of Hunter is warranted – NOT BY CONGRESS.

    Congress is free to investigate Joe Biden’s conduct as president.

    1. “Conducting the business of the president of the united states in a fashion to avoid records would likely violate the PRA. … The PRA can not cover the non-official conduct of the president – and that includes his conduct as a political candidate”

      The phone call between Trump and Kevin McCarthy that’s missing from the log was described by McCarthy as being about the President’s official actions, not a campaign call. The phone call between Trump and Sen. Tuberville that’s missing from the log was described by Tuberville as being about the President’s official actions, not a campaign call.

      “No the House does not have sufficient interest – honestly in almost anything related to 1/6. ”

      BS. Trump and his minions were attempting to prevent Congress from carrying out the Electoral Count Act, and Congress can legitimately investigate anything related to legislation and its own safety.

  5. Watching the so called news these days reminds me of the cartoon Road Runner and Coyote. Meep Meep!

    The trustworthiness of legacy news agencies has dropped below used car salesmen and drug runners. The same people who brought us “Russia Collusion” and the same who suppresses the absolute disaster at the southern border and watching them pretend that the President does not take real questions.

  6. “Gap” is a keyword of sorts, as of late, I’ve noticed. Gaps in communication, so-called gaps in education, gaps in knowledge. Heck, there’s even a game called Mind the Gap. Why is that? What meaning underlies this concern? Why are gaps necessarily bothersome? Gaps leave room for wonder and imagination. Heaven forbid that gets filled in or checked off. Heaven forbid everything gets reduced to the gaps-less existence of sardines in a can.

    1. A “gap” can be a reason for suspicion. It is pretty much never proof of misconduct.

      In this instance Congress has no business trying to conduct a either a political investigation or a criminal investigation – the former is improper, and the latter was constitutionally delegated to the department of justice.

      Congress is free to investigate the extent to which DOJ has done its job.

      I would note that the majority of american people have soured on the Jan 6 committee. Most have understood its purpose is political – individual congressmen are free to act for purely political purposes. Congress itself can not.

      1. John B. Say,
        “A “gap” can be a reason for suspicion.”

        Yes, it can be. I would agree that “it is pretty much never proof of misconduct.”

        The word seems to be veering into some kind fad, though. If the idea of some kind of “gap” is introduced or suggested, then people will think something is missing and want to fill the gap, whether or not there really is a “gap” needing “correction”. Those suggesting a “gap” may have a ready “fix” for that pesky “gap”.

        I’m not saying that Professor Turley is doing that, however. The House Select Committee got that ball rolling in this instance. But, that word has wormed its way into our psyche, too, on a broader scale, so now we’re all on the hunt for “gaps”. There are surely legitimate “gaps” out there, but I sometimes get the feeling there’s a bit of legerdemain going on with the use of this word.

      2. John, you and I agree on few things, but I’d noticed your long absence and wondered if you were OK, and for that reason, I’m glad that to see you again.

    2. Gaps aren’t necessarily bothersome.

      But *this* gap is bothersome because the Presidential Records Act requires that calls be logged, and there are calls that are known to have occurred during this gap (e.g., the call between Trump and Rep. McCarthy, the call between Trump and Sen. Tuberville) that should have been logged and weren’t, which raises the question of whether there were any other calls that should have been logged but weren’t.

      And it is even stranger, as the call to Sen. Lee’s phone for Tuberville came from a WH number and should have been automatically logged, so the fact that it’s missing from the log suggests that someone purposefully removed it from the log: theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/30/trump-used-white-house-phone-call-capitol-attack-jan-6-not-official-log

      1. The real reason for concern is leftist politics. The left doesn’t care about the rules. If they did they would be hollering that the 2020 election was corrupt, but their man got in so the election was fine. You are a HYPOCRITE.

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