Presidential Records Act: From Nixon to Trump, How the PRA Preserves History
November 3, 2022
The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978 transferred legal ownership of official records from both the President and Vice President from private ownership, to the public. The law was enacted with the intention that compliance with the transfer of records would occur in good-faith, but the most recent actions by former President Trump have raised the question of the adequacy of the enforcement provisions of this law. Adherence to the PRA remains in question as the January 6 U.S. House Select Committee continues to struggle in obtaining information from the Trump Administration, and the investigation into the U.S. Capitol insurrection is further prolonged.
The John Brademas Center of New York University, named after former Congressman and NYU President Emeritus John Brademas who was a key author of this legislation, and the Brennan Center for Justice co-hosted this discussion with political scholars and experts about the importance of the PRA. The panelists delved into the challenges, realities, and role that the PRA has played throughout its enactment and most recently in the congressional investigation into the events of January 6.
This program was also sponsored by NYU Votes, a University-wide initiative that aims to ensure that all eligible voters in the NYU community are able to cast their vote either in-person or by mail.
Farnoush Amiri, Congressional Reporter, The Associated Press
Farnoush Amiri is a congressional reporter with The Associated Press, based in Washington, D.C., where she has covered congressional investigations and oversight. For the past year, she has been leading coverage of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol for the wire service, where she has broken news on who the panel is speaking to and what evidence it has gathered. Before that, Farnoush was a political reporter in Ohio where she covered the 2020 presidential election. She was born in Iran and moved to the U.S. at age five. Farnoush is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Bob Bauer Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence Co-Director of the Legislative and Regulatory Process Clinic, NYU Law
Bob Bauer is professor of practice and distinguished scholar in residence at the New York University School of Law and co-director of NYU Law’s Legislative and Regulatory Process Clinic. Bauer served as White House Counsel to President Obama from 2009 to 2011. In 2013, the President named him to be co-chair of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. In 2021, President Biden named him to be co-chair of the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Bob was general counsel to Obama for America, the president’s campaign organization, in 2008 and 2012. Bob has also served as co-counsel to the New Hampshire State Senate in the trial of Chief Justice David A. Brock (2000) and counsel to the Democratic leader in the trial of President William Jefferson Clinton (1999).
Bob is co-author with Jack Goldsmith of After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency (2020), books on federal campaign finance and numerous articles on law and politics for legal periodicals. He has co-authored numerous bipartisan reports on policy and legal reform, including “The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration” (Presidential Commission on Election Administration, 2014); “The State of Campaign Finance in the United States” (Bipartisan Policy Center, 2018); and “Democratizing the Debates” (Annenberg Working Group on Presidential Campaign Debate Reform, 2015). He is a Contributing Editor of Lawfare and has published opinion pieces on constitutional and political law issues in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic, among other publications.
Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky, Historian & Author
Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky is a historian of the presidency, political culture, and the government — especially the president’s cabinet. She produces history that speaks to fellow scholars as well as a larger public audience. Dr. Chervinsky believes history can be exhilarating and she works to share her passion with as many people as possible. Her research can be found in publications from op-eds to books, speaking on podcasts and other media, and teaching for every kind of audience. On this site, you’ll learn more about Dr. Chervinsky and her work.
Dr. Chervinsky’s book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, was published on April 7, 2020. The paperback will be released February 8, 2022. She also writes a monthly column for Governing and Washington Monthly. She is the cohost of The Past, The Promise, The Presidency, and a regular guest on The Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast. She is the creator of the Audible course: The Best and Worst Presidential Cabinets in U.S. History.
Her next book, An Honest Man: The Inimitable Presidency of John Adams is under contract and will be published in Fall 2024.
Tim Naftali, Clinical Associate Professor of Public Service, NYU Wagner
With a joint appointment in History and at Wagner, Timothy Naftali, a Clinical Associate Professor of Public Service and a Clinical Associate Professor of History, is director of NYU's undergraduate Public Policy Major. A native of Montreal and a graduate of Yale with a doctorate in history from Harvard, Naftali writes on national security and intelligence policy, international history and presidential history. Using Soviet-era documents, he and Russian academic Aleksandr Fursenko wrote the prize-winning One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964 and Khrushchev’s Cold War, the latter winning the Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature in 2007 and inclusion on Foreign Affairs’ 2014 list of the ten best books on the Cold War. As a consultant to the 9/11 Commission, Naftali wrote a history of US counterterrorism policy, published as Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism. Most recently, with Peter Baker, Jeffrey Engel and Jon Meacham, he wrote Impeachment: An American History.
Naftali came to NYU Wagner after serving as the founding director of the federal Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, where he authored the Library's nationally acclaimed exhibit on Watergate and oversaw the release of 1.3 million pages of presidential documents and nearly 700 hours of the infamous Nixon tapes. Naftali, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN.com, The Los Angeles Times, Slate and Foreign Affairs, is a CNN presidential historian. Most recently, he was featured in CNN’s The 2000s, Presidents Under Fire: The History of Impeachment and The Bush Years: Family, Duty, Power. In addition, he served as historical consultant to the CNN Original Series "Tricky Dick" and the NETFLIX series, Designated Survivor.
Daniel I. Weiner Director, Elections and Government, Democracy, Brennan Center for Justice
Daniel I. Weiner serves as director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program, where he leads work on money in politics, voting and elections, government ethics, and other democracy and rule of law issues. He has authored a number of nationally recognized reports and law review articles on election law and related topics. He also writes and comments regularly for media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, Slate, the Daily Beast, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, and National Public Radio. He has testified before Congress, state legislatures, and other governmental bodies, and regularly provides legal and policy advice and other assistance to leaders in Washington and across the country.
Weiner previously served as senior counsel to Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub at the Federal Election Commission, including during her term as chair of the commission in 2013. In this role, Weiner assisted with managing the agency and advised the commissioner on a broad array of legal issues under federal campaign finance law, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the First Amendment. Before his service at the FEC, Weiner practiced law in the Washington office of Jenner & Block, LLP, where he litigated cases at the trial and appellate levels, counseled regulatory clients, and maintained an active pro bono practice focused on LGBTQ+ rights.
Weiner received his JD from Harvard Law School, after which he clerked for the Honorable Diana E. Murphy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He graduated magna cum laude with honors from Brown University with a degree in history. Outside of his work at the Brennan Center, Weiner has presided over attorney discipline cases as a hearing committee chairman for the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility.