tremendous content

Trump Accuses George H.W. Bush of Hiding Documents in a Bowling Alley

Lock him up (posthumously). Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Donald Trump has tried out many explanations for why the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago home to retrieve classified documents, from suggesting the materials had been planted by the Feds to claiming he was allowed to take them because presidents can declassify materials “even by thinking about it.” Over the weekend, Trump debuted another very coherent defense: All the other presidents were doing it!

Trump has been alleging for weeks that Barack Obama personally took millions of presidential records back to Chicago at the end of his term, but the claim never really caught on because it’s kind of boring and also untrue. But now, Trump has finally managed to deflect some attention onto his predecessors. All he had to do was spice things up by accusing all of his colleagues on the X-Presidents team of flagrantly mishandling classified materials in cartoonishly villainous ways.

During rallies in Nevada on Saturday and then in Arizona on Sunday, Trump said, per, “George H.W. Bush took millions and millions of documents to a former bowling alley pieced together with what was then an old and broken Chinese restaurant, they put them together. And it had a broken front door and broken windows. Other than that it was quite secure. And there was no security.”

Trump said Obama had committed a similar offense, moving “more than 20 truckloads, over 33 million pages of documents, both classified and unclassified, to a poorly built and totally unsafe former furniture store located in a rather bad neighborhood in Chicago.”

Incredibly, Obama’s two immediate predecessors committed the exact same crime: Trump said that George W. Bush “stored 68 million pages in a warehouse in Texas” and that Bill Clinton “took millions of documents from the White House to a former car dealership in Arkansas.”

Trump offered up some even wilder examples of how presidents have thwarted the National Archives and Records Administration and its henchmen, revealing that Clinton had “kept classified recordings in his sock … They say he left the White House with recordings in his sock, and they found them in his sock drawer” and that Jimmy Carter “sent the nuclear codes to his dry cleaner” and “they never got them back, they’re still looking for them.”

So how are we only learning about all this now? Didn’t scholars complain when they found Chinese-takeout menus mixed in with records of the first Bush administration? Were any Clinton documents smeared with motor oil? As president, why didn’t Trump devote more resources to preventing a disgruntled dry cleaner from trying to launch the nukes?

Many people were saying the stories made absolutely no sense, including Trump’s former primary foe Jeb Bush.

On Tuesday, NARA cleared things up, explaining in a statement to CNN that nothing Trump said is true.

Indeed, it seems Trump was misrepresenting reporting on well-guarded temporary warehouses where NARA archivists sometimes sort former presidents’ records while their libraries are under construction. For example, Trump’s claims about H.W. seem rooted in a 1994 AP story about a building that had been repurposed to hold his papers in College Station, Texas:

The stuff of George Bush’s life — an old infielder’s mitt, the door of a Kuwaiti palace, even a huge likeness of Bush’s head from a Republican convention — is being sorted in an old bowling alley.

Of course, there’s not enough room in the old Chimney Hill Bowl for 36 million pages of documents, a million photos and 40,000 objects. So some of it is crammed next door, in what used to be the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant.

Someday, this will be the treasure of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University. But for now, it’s just pile upon pile of Bush fodder for the archivists.

The article notes that the facility was heavily protected:

Uniformed guards patrol the premises. There are closed-circuit television monitors and sophisticated electronic detectors along walls and doors. Some printed material is classified and will remain so for years; it is open only to those with top-secret clearances.

And what about Trump’s other nutty claims? It seems he was referencing Clinton’s hiding tapes of conversations he had with an author working on his oral history (which were unclassified) in his sock drawer (not his sock) at the White House. And the Carter story is a reference to a thinly sourced and unconfirmed rumor, according to the Washington Post.

It’s clear why Trump ignored all of these inconvenient facts: His tall tales are meant to serve as a justification for letting presidents (namely him) hide classified material wherever they want.

“When will they investigate and prosecute Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, and look into what took place with George Bush’s father and the warehouse of documents had by Barack Hussein Obama?” Trump concluded. “And I don’t think they’ll do it. And you know what, I don’t think they should do it.”

He didn’t weigh in on his own legal fate, which is a bit more up in the air than Obama’s.

More tremendous content

See All
Trump Accuses H.W. Bush of Hiding Records in a Bowling Alley