A new email scandal.... already? Has anyone told Donald Trump the rules for the President's email?
Whether you love or hate his policies, you have to admit that Trump IS a definitely, "high energy"! It’s still weeks before he is sworn in as President, and he has already closed deals with Ford Motor Co. and Carrier Air Conditioning to stop the outsourcing of US jobs. The details are a little thin, but it looks like both deals will stick! WOW, just the emails on the Carrier deal could be a whole chapter when they write books about the Trump Presidency. Uhhh… did I say email? DEAR GOD Mr. Trump, please tell us you spent Thanksgiving building a secure email server!
Wait! We don’t need to panic. Just yet. After all, he hasn't yet been sworn in as President, so he doesn’t need to preserve his emails. Or does he? We just spend years on Hillary Clinton’s here again / gone again email. Surely someone knows the rules?
Or is that the point? Every new four-year term as the president is like the tick of the technology clock. A term as President is a whole generation of technology! With every new Presidency must face a new technology challenge. And a challenge for the agencies that carry out those regulations.
When it comes to records, there are two justifications for tracking the President. The first is the archive process, managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Their job is to preserve “historically important” documents from the President, Congress, and other branches of government.
After each Presidency, NARA ensures that relevant Presidential documents are available to the American public. Traditionally, only 1-2***** of government documents are archived, so determining what to archive can be controversial. President Nixon believed in the power of the “Presidential Agreement”. This was usually verbal (no documentation), usually NOT for public discussion, not discussed with or approved by Congress, expired with the end of the President’s term, and open to reinterpretation (since the wording was not documented). Nixon’s agreements involved matters of war, so archivists naturally wanted documentation. But without documentation, can there be archiving?
If this seems like a gap in regulations, it is not. It is a battle over Presidential power. Agreements without documentation might not need to be reported to Congress. The power of the President comes from negotiations, often secret negotiations! Congress repeatedly pointed out that Nixon’s “Presidential Agreements” looked suspiciously like international treaties, which can be negotiated by the President but MUST be ratified by the Senate, leaving little room for secret negotiations.
While the Carrier deal was largely a domestic matter, not a treaty since it did not involve a foreign government, and Trump isn’t yet a member of the government, he probably hasn’t broken any laws. But at the end of his Presidency, will he volunteer copies of these and other historic emails? And will Archives need to archive his Tweets and YouTube uploads?
Trump is not the first President to deal with technology. Long ago, discussions and agreements were either verbal or written (on paper). As long as you didn’t get the two confused, life was good. Yet the media would get “leaked” confidential documents or a verbal agreement (or even comment) would be overheard and become news.
President George Bush Senior (President #43, 1989-1993) had some very concerned archivists. He had dramatically fewer paper documents than his predecessors. Voice mail and email were replacing paper correspondence. Voice mail was stored on cassette tape, and overwritten when the tape was full. Besides, the archives did not include telephone calls, so why archive v-mail? It was argued that email was used more to tell you that you had a call or a visitor, just like the little slips of paper that said "You have a call", and these were never archived. So the arguments went, for a while.
By Bill Clinton's Presidency (1993-2001), email and messaging took off. The Palm Pilot in 1992 was the first successful “computer in your pocket". It was years before MS Outlook took off (1997), Corporate America fell in love with the Blackberry (1999), or Google created Gmail (2004).
When George W. Bush (President #45, 2001-2009) appointed Colin Powell as Secretary of State, he got a modem to go with the job. Modem? Think of it as a sad little box that squeaked, and slowly… ever so slowly… talked sent data around at 0.0056 MB. That's right! Your tragically slow phone plan probably has more bandwidth than the entire White House had in 2001.
A lot changed by the time Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Besides, her issue wasn’t with her server or home computer. She just wanted a wy to keep her Blackberry and separate work from personal emails. Her logic, and that of many others was, this is a phone, right? But the reality was that her Blackberry was a more powerful computer than Colin Powell’s desktop. The least used feature on today's smartphone is the… the phone!
Hillary’s downfall was her desire to continue to work the way she was used, without carrying around two phones. Will President Trump be able to give up his Twitter account? Donald Trump has been a media phenomena. But has he decided where Trump Inc. ends and President Trump begins?
During Bill Clinton’s Administration Hillary Clinton may have been the most powerful First Lady ever, working on meaningful healthcare reform legislation. Ivanka Trump may be the most powerful First Daughter ever. Trump has already asked for top secret clearance for his kids, and Ivanka has attended government meetings. There are hints that Ivanka will run the Trump empire while her father is President, but there are also hints that Trump wants to continue to have Ivanka as an advisor.
Which will it be, or will it be both? Will the entire First Family need to work on government-issued phones and computers? One way or another Donald Trump is going to rewrite the rules on how the government listens to how the President communicates!